Justice League #1 Second Opinion

Posted June 7, 2018 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Comic Books

Written by: Scott Snyder

Art by: Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, and Tom Morey

Published by: DC Comics

Perhaps the nicest thing I can say about Scott Snyder and Jim Cheung’s debut on Justice League is this: It is nowhere near as bad as Snyder’s other recent outings into the DC Universe. In fact, I found myself remembering the elements of Snyder’s writing I so enjoyed in the past–namely strong dialogue and engaging, fresh interpretations of characters.

Unfortunately, some of my critiques of Dark Knights: Metal and Justice League: No Justice are just as easily applied to this issue. For one, Justice League #1 is steeped in recent DC Universe lore. This isn’t the fault of the creative team, but it still warrants mentioning. Being generous, this issue is at least a #5, and more realistically you’ll need to have sat through all of Metal in addition to No Justice for the plot to be anything but nonsensical.

Additionally, I’m really exhausted by every plot being “this is the biggest threat the DC Universe has ever faced!” It just isn’t true, and after years of actions not having consequences, it gets hard to care about the same universe-ending plot. Good character writing can salvage bland plots, but at that point, why aren’t we just getting more ambitious, focused, character-driven stories? At least Snyder seems willing to lean into the sheer stupidity of the universe.

While this isn’t a new critique, choosing to let it slide, especially from the big two, has been a major error in comic book coverage. Publishers are essentially allowed to lie to new readers, promising a new starting point while releasing anything but. Enfranchised readers will likely enjoy references to past events, but others will be confused.

I mostly just didn’t want to be reminded of all those bad comics I read out of some sick sense of obligation.

Plot points are, unfortunately, not the only hold overs from Snyder’s recent forays into event comics. Perhaps I look back on his Batman run with rose-tinted glasses–I was certainly reading less critically at 14 than I am at 21–but I don’t remember him tending to over write. Even this issue doesn’t suffer from it to the degree some of his other recent work has, but it’s still a bummer.

Honestly, the writing isn’t even bad. His prose is solid, but in a visual medium like comics, I would rather be shown events than told about them. His introduction to the Hall of Justice was, frankly, awful. A visual tour of the new Hall of Justice with sparse commentary would have been preferable to his play-by-play description.

Similarly, I would rather have seen the start Martian Manhunter’s arc than simply be told he suffered from self-doubt. Here, I’m not even worried about the writing/art divide. It’s just hard to be invested in a character without their flaws being believable. Snyder clearly has a great idea for the character, one I’m excited to see play out. But if all the development is going to come in the form of telling me how he feels in text boxes, I’m going to check out and stop caring.

Martian Manhunter’s self-doubt isn’t even the only promising idea in Justice League #1. His version of the League feels like an evolved group. Manhunter is at the head of the organization, and they’ve moved beyond being super serious and towards being comfortable with one another, lightly teasing Batman and generally acting like friends. The dialogue in these scenes is solid, though it doesn’t always land.

Occasionally, I would read a line and my immediate response would be: “This book probably could have used one more editing pass, huh?” Not because Snyder doesn’t get the character voices right–he does–but because the characters don’t always talk like people, instead defaulting to clunky, flow-breaking lines.

There also may be a little too much dialogue, as it does get in the way of the art team’s work. The trio of Cheung, Morales, and Morey mostly do solid work with the visuals. There are a few pages and panels I would even describe as exceptional, though they are often drug down by unnecessary monologuing. One, a haunting panel of Martian Manhunter, could have been incredibly affecting had the art team done it on their own.

Within these constraints, the team delivers what I would describe as the top 25% of DC house style artists. They bring enough flair for the book to be distinguishable, but not quite enough for me to be particularly interested in yelling their praises. If you’ve read DC books in the past decade or so, you’ll know what you’re getting into and whether you’ll like the art. I wish that wasn’t the case, but clearly DC thinks this is how they’ll sell books.

Much like Man of Steel #1 last week, Justice League #1 sure is a DC book. If you’re excited by one of those, I guess you’ll like this, though I would encourage you to broaden your horizons a little.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.