Way back when the New 52 first launched, the first comic I picked up was Justice League, mostly because it was the first one to be released. I read the first issue and enjoyed it but I never followed up on it for one reason or another. My comic reading comes and goes in spurts, which I think works for something that’s monthly. Today, I’ve finally finished reading the first story arc in the series, titled Origins. This first story arc is comprised of the first six issues in the series and makes up the entirety of volume 1.
I should preface this by saying that I am not a long time comic reader by any means. The greatest insight I had before The New 52 was that I knew an oddly detailed amount of information regarding the storyline found in the 2005~2011 run of Green Lantern. So! If there are long time characters here that aren’t the main villain or the Justice League members, you’ll have to excuse me for not knowing who any of them are.
The idea with Justice League is that it doesn’t take place in the “modern day” as opposed to most of the other titles part of the new line. This version of the Justice League takes place five years before just about every other New 52 title with the exception of a few. If the idea behind The New 52 was to introduce new readers to the world, Justice League does an okay job most of the time. This title takes place in a time when superheroes aren’t too well known and are really just starting to emerge in greater numbers. Rightly so, the public is pretty weary of these people running around in strange suits with incredible powers, taking important matters into their own hands. If you’re a new reader, I think this is the best aspect to help give you that sense of belonging with the idea of what The New 52 is. There are a few other titles out there that don’t do such a great job of helping a new reader get into these titles. The new Green Lantern series, for example, is actually a straight up continuation of the 2005~2011 series – and it’s thanks to this that I actually dropped that title for a while so I can go back and read the previous series in detail, rather than just knowing random information.
I think Justice League has done a great job of serving as an introduction to new readers not only because it takes place in the past but because most of the heroes have no idea who the other heroes are. At the start of the series, we’re lead to believe that the only characters who have known each other for a while are Green Lantern and Flash, everyone else is a stranger. Thanks to this little aspect, I think you can place yourself as a reader in the shoes of the Flash or Green Lantern as they’re being introduced to the rest of these superheroes. In fact, most of the second issue is Batman, the Flash, and Green Lantern fighting Superman thanks to a misunderstanding that has both sides believing the other is part of an invasion, the first wave of which was just fought off. This self-insertion works well to get the reader into the idea that, even if they don’t understand everything going on, that’s okay because no one else has any clue either.
Now, let’s get to the story! Nothing too deep here, your standard mass invasion story and that’s about as deep as it goes, with a few possible hints to future storylines. Before I wrote this review, I went out and checked a couple different reviews out, a lot of them were surprisingly negative. This review right here, for example, sums up the feelings from long time fans. The reaction to this story strikes me as definitely being two-sided. Long time fans wanted something deeper, but a lot of the newcomers were just happy to see a sort of greatest hits collection of what Justice League can be. Comedy? Got it. Action? All over the place. Deep(ish) ideas and ambiguous stories? A few are in here. Having these first six issues contain a little bit of everything is a smart move, allowing newer readers a short introduction to the kind of narrative and ideas this series has to offer. Action is probably the only prevailing idea over here, which I think is just fine. After all, action is a huge reason for the attraction to these stories and characters. Had this story arc played to different strengths and focused solely in one area, it’s likely that new readers would have been turned off out of the misconception that this is all Justice League can do. This is probably one of the few times I find myself okay with vanilla story telling. Origins doesn’t try to break new ground or be extraordinarily deep. This story arc is, at its core, the epitome of what a superhero story is: heroes fighting against the odds for a greater cause. The series can be as experimental as it wants later on, right now this is what it needed to be able to reach a far wider audience than ever before. Or at least wider than has been reached in the last two or three decades.
So that’s me blathering on about the story, how are the characters? There’s going to be someone here for just about anyone to enjoy. The personalities are so wide and varied that I think nearly anyone can pick up the series and instantly find themselves a character they enjoy. The Justice League’s first roster in this universe is comprised of seven characters: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern (Hal Jordon), Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Each character adds something to help the story move along and to make this arc come together as a real ensemble piece. Superman is portrayed as this behemoth of power in the first couple of issues, pretty much like his traditional self. Thanks to this, the series helps show a mini-evolution as he goes from an all-powerful guy to someone a little more grounded. This arc even breaks the idea that Superman actually is all powerful, and that right there is going to be instantly appealing to anyone who hasn’t been fond of Superman because they’re stuck on the Golden Age ideal of him being unstoppable. Superman finds himself being kidnapped and tortured, and it is not pretty. So, right here, thanks to this, we know that even with Superman around as a main character, there are threats that even he can’t stand against on his own.
Next up is Batman. Batman is…well, Batman. He’s the dark knight, Bruce Wayne. He’s the same Batman that’s been around since the early 80s – a bit of a loner and someone who knows how to call the shots. What I enjoyed most about Batman here is that he isn’t so incredibly overt about knowing how to call the shots. I mean, yeah, early on there’s a line about how he should be the leader and that made me role my eyes, but you see what is either growth or his cunning kick in later. Batman convinces Green Lantern into being the “glue” of the team, the person who can truly make them band together and work as a unit. This angle is easily taken in two lights, you can believe this is him being able to realize his ways don’t always work and that someone else can call the shots better, being genuinely humble…OR…you can take it the way I did. This scene came off to me as Batman realizing that Hal is simply a better people person than he is. When Batman gives orders. they’re direct and without emotion. Hal gives them that human element that can make the rest of the team believe what they’re doing is for the very best.
Now, we must talk about Green Lantern, of course. Hal is a lot of fun in this first arc. He shows off his powers, we learn that there is some sort of skill required to keep his constructs around. Here’s another character who gets knocked down a few pegs from the pedestal he might have been placed on thanks to the Golden Age imagery of him that’s become so popular. Among the main members of the team, I think Hal is easily the most human and most explored. His interactions with the rest of the team guides readers into seeing different aspects of his personality. There’s even a hilarious scene that has Hal unintentionally touching Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, after which he blurts out that he’s only a hero to try and impress people. Whew boy, that’s going to lead to some interesting developments along the way.
Wonder Woman is next! I really have no idea what the popular image of Wonder Woman in the past was, so I can’t rightly compare this Wonder Woman to her former self. Here, she comes off as someone almost always itching for a fight and in need of someone to tell her when it’s time to fight and when it’s time to run and think up a plan. She’s one of the strongest members on the team and is very straight forward thanks to her being hidden away from the modern world for most of her life. Wonder Woman was pampered throughout a great deal of her life, so she wants to get out there and prove her worth, leading to her overzealous attitude towards fighting. Though, thanks to this pampering, she can be an oddly good people person. There are moments in which she comes off as this very comforting person, especially towards Cyborg. This first story arc actually makes me want to start reading the Wonder Woman series that’s currently running – more or less the only series from a member of the Justice League I’m not reading.
Aquaman makes his entrance at the end of issue three. A problem I’ve had with the new Aquaman series is that it tries to be a little too self-aware. It makes it a point to have people make fun of Aquaman as “the guy who can talk to fish” and nothing more, basically trying to yell “Hey look! We can be COOL! WE MAKE FUN OF OURSELVES!”. And there is some merit to this early on, mostly to have Aquaman show what he’s really made of…but after a while it gets tiring. Thankfully, this is relegated to only a couple of instances here in this first story arc. Notably, Aquaman proving to Green Lantern what he’s actually capable of when questioned what skills he can bring to the situation after having the powers of the others listed off for him. We don’t actually see too much of him as a person, he’s very silent and that’s about it for him so far. If you want to know more about Aquaman right away, I’d suggest reading the aforementioned Aquaman comic currently running.
The Flash is the next character we’re going to look at. He is a jokester, and I think this is something kept in line with what he’s always been, the guy knows how to lighten the mood. If everyone else is taking themselves super seriously and this starts to grate on the reader, here’s a character who brings some humor to the action. The Flash is actually a detective in this series, he doesn’t like being seen as the Flash because it might throw into question where the heck he runs off to when the city is being attacked. It’s also thanks to the Flash that we get the first name for the Justice League. Yeah, at the end of this arc, when the team needs a name, they aren’t the Justice League. The Flash dubs this new band of heroes the Super Seven. …as you can image, this is met with a “Really, man?” reaction from Hal and it’s awesome. Again, if you want to learn more about the Flash, I’d recommend reading his comic – it’s actually fairly stand-alone and an easy read for someone trying to get into comics.
Finally! We’re at Cyborg. Next to Green Lantern and the Flash, Cyborg is arguably one of the main characters. This arc sees us follow this character from being a regular high school football player who wishes his dad could make it to just one of his games to being Cyborg. The story here is that his father is a scientist and sees no value in football. Obviously, that doesn’t sit right with his son who has just been scouted by a bunch of agents from different colleges. He comes off as someone who doesn’t like things being handed to him. When his father tells him to stop wasting time with football scholarships because he can pay for it, he replies with “give that money to someone who really needs it” and I love that about this guy. It’s thanks to being attacked by Darkseid that the lab Cyborg and his father were in is destroyed and that most of his body was attacked by a sort of energy that eats away at him, causing what would have been an excruciating death. While his father seemed like a douche earlier, he does love his son and tries to do whatever he can to save him, including turning him into a cyborg to save his life. What I love so much about Cyborg here is that his introduction is a trial by fire. The guy becomes Cyborg and moments later he’s off having to deal with these demon/alien/whatevertheyare without having any idea what half of his powers are or really what even happened to him. It’s actually thanks to Cyborg that the team manages to close the dimensional portal the invaders were using, sending them back where they came from, for now.
As the story comes to a close, there’s this awesome moment with the heroes tired and standing among the destruction caused, people are running up to them and they’re expecting to be berated but are instead met with thanks from everyone around. This is the moment that has these guys going from masked vigilantes to heroes. Seeing that moment itself? That’s just awesome. It’s not so much the heroes that make themselves heroes but rather the people that are now trusting of these guys. You are what others see you as, despite your best intentions, that seems to be the key message here and for now, these guys are heroes. The team formed at the end is actually only formed at the behest of the Flash and Batman – no one else really likes the idea of being on a team or having to work with each other. Everyone is just playing along to get people off their backs. I’m going to love seeing that moment when these guys are finally able to be okay with the fact that they’re a team, when they actually become friends.
Visually, this series is a joy to look at. Jim Lee is the main artist and he’s supposedly some sort of fan favorite, I can see why. His characters have near perfect construction for what he’s trying to achieve – a balance between heroic and normal looking people. I’m also in love with the coloring here, there are some panels and spreads that are flat out breath-taking. Anything that mixes blues and reds is going to make you sit back for a moment in awe of how amazing it looks. Every now and then, you come across a panel or two that might be confusing to look at, but in general, this is a gorgeous book. The art in some of these new titles can sometimes be a turn off, or just barely miss the mark. This strikes me as one of the only titles that actually manages to strike the perfect balance and appeal as a visual thing, something absolutely important in comics.
Justice League: Origins serves as a great introduction for new readers. It might not be the best thing for an older reader but I really believe it has everything that someone new to the world of comics would want. Hey, it worked well enough to hook me. If you’ve not read any of the New 52, I’d recommend at least picking up the first six issues or the first volume that contains them and giving it a chance. If you only read one series from The New 52, this is one of the better ones to help you get interested in the larger world of the DC universe.