DC Comics has rebooted its line of superhero comics, beginning with its flagship title, Justice League. Written by Geoff Johns with pencils by Jim Lee, Justice League is supposed to be an entry point for readers unfamiliar with the DC Universe. That’s the theory. But DC Comics are not exactly known for being “new reader friendly.” And Geoff Johns is an acquired taste (one acquires that taste by reading superhero comics, and only superhero comics, for 40 years straight).
As a courtesy to newcomers, I offer this annotated guide to Justice League #1.
While the line-up of the Justice League has changed many times over the decades, the iconic team has always included DC’s most revered characters plus Aquaman. Starting at the top left and working clockwise, there’s Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, Batman, and the Flash. Batman is arguably the most famous, but Superman has a TV show (Smallville) and a movie in the works, Green Lantern recently appeared in a movie that most of you didn’t bother to see, Cyborg guest-starred in about two episodes of Smallville, and Wonder Woman almost had her own TV series.
Casual fans might notice that the costumes look a bit different from their classic appearances. Superman no longer wears underwear outside of his pants. Most of the men appear to be wearing armor instead of spandex. And Wonder Woman now has a choker, presumably because her bare neck was drawing attention away from her cleavage.
This is a great example of Jim Lee’s artwork. It’s full of dynamic motion, though I’m not sure what that motion is. Is Batman using his cape as a makeshift parachute? Or is he running away on his knuckles? I say the latter, because Batman is just that damn tough.
Batman is pursuing an alien monster while being pursued by the cops, and just when the alien seems to gain the upper hand, Batman is rescued by — Green Lantern.
As DC Comics helpfully reminds us, superheroes are modern myths overflowing with allegorical subtext. As this scene makes clear, Green Lantern is not just a guy with a flashlight in his chest. He’s also a metaphor for light, because lanterns provide light. And Batman is a metaphor for darkness, because bats like the dark. So they represent light and dark, the two sides of heroism (and humanity!). Green Lantern hits things in the light and Batman hits things in the dark. Green Lantern is like Zeus and Batman is like Hades. On second thought, Superman is Zeus and Green Lantern is Helios (Aquaman is Poseidon, that’s clearly a given). Or maybe Green Lantern is Jesus if Jesus were a space cop. And that would make Batman … um, let’s say Dark Jesus. The point is these characters are MODERN MYTHS.
Anyway, Batman and Green Lantern pursue the alien into the sewers, where Lantern gives Batman some grief about not having superpowers.
Batman more or less punks Green Lantern and takes his magic ring. Given that Green Lantern has the power to do anything or create anything he wants, some readers may wonder how the unpowered Batman humiliates him so easily. Two reasons: first, Green Lantern is an idiot. Second, while Batman may not have super-strength or magic, he has the greatest superpower of all, one that allows him to win any fight: popularity.
The alien screams “For Darkseid!” and blows itself up. Darkseid was, as every comic nerd knows, the main villain of the “Fourth World” saga, a collection of stories created by legendary comic artist Jack Kirby. Long story short, DC Comics kicked Kirby to the curb and mismanaged his creations for several decades. Darkseid’s last appearance before the reboot was in a recent story called Final Crisis. In the climactic battle, Batman shot Darkseid with a cosmic bullet and then Superman killed him with the power of song (the exact song was not specified, but it was probably soft adult contemporary). The scene was a dramatic celebration of creativity. Too bad actual creative people like Kirby don’t get as much love.
This is the introduction of Victor Stone, the teenager who will eventually become Cyborg. He’s half man, half machine, and all black. That last feature is useful for marketing purposes because the Justice League isn’t known for its diversity.
And interacting with minorities would be a good thing for Batman and Green Lantern, as they have a tendency to engage in racial profiling. They decide that Superman, being an alien, must somehow be involved with the alien monster, so they fly to Metropolis to interrogate him. And Superman, rational adult that he is, punches out Green Lantern and then challenges Batman.
Next issue: Superman vs. Batman! Who will win? Superman has super-strength, super-speed, flight, invulnerability, freeze breath, and heat vision. That may sound impressive, but Batman is really, really popular.