I remember back when Justice was announced. I think it was my first week or so at Wizard. I can’t remember if I was actually there when they printed the news or if I read about it in the issue that had just come out, but they announced Alex Ross’s Justice League comic at the same time as the All Star line that would go on to include (and possibly end with) the fantastic All Star Superman and the ridiculously over the top, but still lots of fun All Star Batman and Robin. I stood outside one of the side doors of the old building while talking with someone about it. We were trying to figure out if it was just an Ultimate rip-off, but decided no, it would be interesting. Might as well make some books that don’t require 20 years of continuity knowledge for people to check out.
It’s funny how things worked out. By the time Justice finally started coming out I had forgotten that it was originally mentioned along with the All Star books and also that it was out of continuity. I remember being really confused after a few issues, especially when retro Supergirl and grown up Dick Grayson as Robin and kid of gave up on the series. I was done with Alex Ross’ obsession with the Super Friends and comics from the 70s that I haven’t read. But over time I acquired all three Justice trades and just read them all in two days and I really liked the series.
Maybe it’s that the Justice League books have been pretty lackluster for, well years now. Ever since Infinite Crisis and probably a little before that, the team hasn’t really had a sense of gravitas or stability that it deserves (and I’d rather give up the gravitas for stability, like with the JLI era). Maybe it’s that I’m sick of seeing the greatest superhero team on earths standing around, looking at pictures around a table and being forced to look at their symbols. Maybe it’s that lame events that no one cares about keep upsetting potentially interesting stories. Maybe it’s that I keep being shown HOW the team came together instead of why they exist. But Justice doesn’t seem to suffer from any of those problems.
Yes, it is steeped in Satellite-era Justice League sentimentality, but not necessarily continuity. Like I said, I’ve only read a handful of comics from that era, but I didn’t have trouble following any of the beats. Of course, I’ve been reading about these characters pretty consistently since that time, so I don’t know if this would be a great book to pass to a newbie, but it might be worth a shot. Anyway, the story follows the League’s reaction to a group of supervillains (mostly members of the Legion of Doom, not surprisingly) seemingly turning over a new leaf and helping people. It’s of course a big ruse by Brainiac, Lex Luthor and Gorilla Grodd, but it does feel like an epic story. And since it is an alternate universe or whatever you want to call it, you really don’t know what will happen to the characters.
I’ll be honest, I’m surprised with how much I liked the book. Like I said, I’m getting sick of the Super Friends nostalgia, but Ross and co-writter and penciller Jim Krueger used it is a spring board instead of a crutch. And really, that’s all on the surface. Yes it’s an old JLA team that you’re maybe not familiar with and yes, the villains are the Legion of Doom, but it’s not a goofy story by any means. Our writers also take time throughout the 12 issues series to give almost all of the big heroes their cool little moments. I really liked their take on Martian Manhunter’s society and them making Aquaman seem cool (something Peter David did a while ago, but, like I said, that was a while ago). They don’t do that thing where characters talk about how awesome a character is, instead, they show you why you should care. I think this is the one comic that really showed me why Barry Allen and Hal Jordan are cool.
Plus, you can’t talk about an Alex Ross comic without commenting on the art. While I’ve been finding a lot of his covers (especially the JSoA stuff) too rich in pastels, Justice feels like his classic 90s work. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be as many Easter Eggs as their were in Marvels or Kingdom Come, but the figures all look very solid and impressive, which is exactly what you want in a comic filled with larger than life superheroes. We even get spreads featuring the Green Lantern Corps and the Legion of Super-Heroes, which were my wallpaper at various times when I worked at Wizard.
I also have to complement DC on putting these trades together. They probably could have been more economically put together in 6-issue arcs (or even one big 12-issue volume) as opposed to the three, but the story does seem to have been broken up into a three act structure that benefits from the breaks in the trades (though, again, economically it sucks, but if you’re not worried about economics, check out the Absolute edition on its way out, if it’s not already out). What DC should get credit for is including Batman’s “files” in the back of the trades with sketches and art by Ross. I know most/all of this stuff was included in the comics themselves, but it’s nice to see that material make it into the trades, especially if you didn’t buy the issues. If nothing else, I learned that Giganta was actually a gorilla who could grow. The silver age was weirdsville you guys.
So, if you missed out on Justice when it was first coming out, gave up on it early like I did or avoided it completely because you thought it was too retro, I’d recommend giving it another shot. It’s a great big, epic superhero story that offers up a complex story filled with twists and turns that all makes sense in the end. Oh, and the art sure is perty.