By Jarrod Jones. I’m having a tough time figuring out Justice League of America, why it’s here, and most importantly, why we ought to read it.
That… may sound unreasonably harsh right out of the gate, especially when you consider the evident talent on display here: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert, Marcelo Maiolo, and Clayton Cowles — that’s an A+ team all on its own. But then you toss in Steve Orlando, the one person who could make a Wildstorm property actually function within the wider DCU without developing a creative hernia (thus earning at least one pat on the back from co-publisher Jim Lee), and all of a sudden you don’t have another run-of-the-mill team book — you have a bonafide event.
Considering that the series is spinning off from Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, a “nice try” Forever Evil-type fracas designed to progress ongoing continuity while giving some of us cruel flashbacks to DC’s 2016 movie slate, definitely isn’t a feather in its cap. Though it is nice that events still tend to have lingering consequences in the DCU, even during the publisher’s Rebirth initiative — something that has otherwise been refreshingly light on oppressive line-wide events. And if this JLA means we get The Ray back in that particularly zippy jacket, well hey. That’s just disco.
But that doesn’t explain why Justice League of America is back on shelves for the first time in three years. Never forget Geoff Johns and David Finch’s patently silly, Dark Reign-esque Justice League of America, especially in context to this book: here Batman decides that the world “needs heroes they can know,” instead of his other team of aloof, monolithic do-gooders, who do perplexingly obtuse things like save kittens out of trees or otherwise bestow their benevolence upon the world. “It starts with the Justice League of America,” Batman says, completely forgetting that the last time a team rolled around the States with this name it was populated by anti-heroes, mercenaries, thieves, and other equally tiresome pains in the neck.
This is a team with skeletons in the closet, secrets to keep, and something to prove. Sounds like a solid premise on its own, but this is the DC Universe, where continuity is king.
A bigger problem for JLA is Detective Comics already has its premise on lock. Over in James Tynion IV’s corner of Gotham City Batman is already saddled with a team of misfits looking to redeem themselves through rigorous nights full of punching bad guys, scowling at authority, and other similarly masochistic displays of derring-do. Even the line-up of Justice League of America seems to reflect this: Black Canary is Batwoman (Batman’s second-in-command); Vixen is Orphan (the ridiculously over-powered but socially congenial member); Killer Frost is Spoiler, obviously (for reasons this debut issue all but telegraphs in its first few pages); and either The Atom or The Ray could be stand-ins for Tim Drake (both are practically the third Robin split in twain — one is a beloved Nineties throwback, the other is technically savvy to an almost supernatural degree). Which finally brings us to the team’s twitchy ne’er-do-well: Lobo, of all people, standing in for Clayface.
Yeah. Then there’s Lobo. I won’t dwell too much on DC’s desire to have its cake and eat it when it comes to applying their small armada of formerly R-rated characters (John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Lobo) to their wider line, but aside from correcting the woeful wrong that was rebooting the character a few years back (in the achingly trite New 52 paradigm no less), Lobo’s presence on the team is a glaring contradiction nestled inside Batman’s earnest credo. (What’s more, the primary idea of subversion for this rougher-around-the-edges Lobo is that he refuses to sit down when asked.)
I’m hanging in for this book’s first arc. The team is too good and their craft is too on-point to pass this by. Orlando and Co. are playing with some of the more marginalized characters in DC’s toybox (almost like they were Outsiders or something), and the potential for greatness is still high. Now that this perfunctory round-up issue is out of the way, let’s see what Steve Orlando can do with his very own JLA. It may end up being superfluous, but I’ll be damned if it probably won’t be captivating.
Written by Steve Orlando.
Art by Ivan Reis.
Inks by Joe Prado and Oclair Albert.
Colors by Marcelo Maiolo.
Letters by Clayton Cowles.
6.5 out of 10