The last time I was really excited about mainstream comics was the lead-up to Infinite Crisis and everything that went on up until about Countdown. It seemed like DC had done a great job of keeping their universe well organized, using several quality creators to not only tell stories that were unique and fun in and of themselves, but also lead up to something much larger. Sometime during the Infinite Crisis event, I actually started working at Wizard, so I had more of an inside track on what was going on. To be honest, as cool as that can be, it’s not always a great thing and can taint how you feel about different books. It’s the age old bit about seeing how the sausage is made. Sometimes it’s interesting and enlightening, other times it’s pretty gross.
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Anyway, I remember being excited about Brad Meltzer re-launching DC’s supreme superteam as Justice League Of America. I liked what he did on Identity Crisis and his arc of Green Arrow is still one of my all time favorites. But I don’t really remember liking the arc. I remember not being a huge fan of the team, which seemed like a rehash of the Satellite Era which I’m still unfamiliar with, the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman looking at photos gag and the way they all used each others’ first names even in the field. But that was about it. I grabbed the trades when I was still at Wizard and have been holding on to them ever since. I figured it’d make sense to get back to them — as well as the other post-IC JLA books I have — and see whether I should keep hanging on to them or not.
Turns out, I will be keeping Meltzer’s run on this book and enjoyed it quite a bit. Many of the things that got under my skin back then, just don’t bother me on a general level (though they JLA should definitely never refer to their teammates by their real first names out in the field). I’m also able to separate myself from all the other things that were going on at that time and just enjoy the story. One thing that really stuck out to me this time around is that Meltzer’s look at this team is a lot more micro than something like Grant Morrison’s JLA. This book looks at why these people need to band together on a personal and emotional level while Morrison presents many of the external threats that necessitate the League’s existence in the grand scheme of the DCU. Once I realized that, it really helped me enjoy this story even more.
Hey, speaking of the story, I should explain. It’s after 52 and the Big Three have gotten together to put together the Justice League again. Meanwhile, the people who will go on to make up the team are having their own adventures that all wind up being related. Red Tornado gets a human body, but that’s all part of a big plan by Solomon Grundy to keep him from constantly dying that also involves Amazo. I’m not always a big fan of “putting the team together” stories, but this is a fun one that establishes the JLA not only as a team, but also a group of peers who have a great deal of respect and affection for one another. I particularly enjoy the relationship set up between Black Canary, Hal Jordan and Arsenal-turned-Red Arrow. That’s one of the most interesting triangles in comics and Meltzer gives it enough real estate to make sure everyone understands just how cool it is.
For his part, Ed Benes does a pretty solid job of showing off these big time superheroes. He seems to go back and forth between using too many tiny lines and using just the right amount. The first issue turned out a little darker than I thought it needed to be thanks to all the darkness (though that could be an inker or colorist thing). Soon enough he hits his stride and does a great job though. The level of darkness that comes from his off issues, though, don’t help because this is supposed to be a big, bright story featuring colorful characters.
As a longtime fan of this team, I also appreciate how historical Meltzer makes this group seem. The Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman stuff definitely feeds into this, but there’s also all the existing and soon-to-be relationships hinted at like Red Arrow and Hawkgirl, which I didn’t even realize is a reference to the Hawkman/Green Arrow relationship of yore until I read it in the creator commentary section in the back of the book. There are plenty of nods like to the teams that came before it, some of which are only revealed after learning more about this team.
Since the second arc of Meltzer’s JLoA run continues into a crossover with Justice Society Of America, it made sense to grab this book off my shelf and give it a read. I’ve said before how much I enjoyed the historical aspects of a shared universe and how the Justice Society is usually the best exemplifier of that. Geoff Johns is the perfect writer for a book like this because he has such a love for continuity and wields it deftly while creating his yarns. The new concept of the JSA in the post-52 world is that the older heroes like Alan Scott Green Lantern, Jay Garrick Flash and Wildcat will train younger powered people (usually ones with ties to older/dead heroes) how to do this gig well.
The first arc brings in a few new characters like Wildcat’s son (who turns into a cat), the Starman from Kingdom Come as well as heroes newbies related to Red Tornado and Commander Steel. While this is partially a “putting the team together” story, there’s less of that as most of the team includes characters who were already in the book. But, the newbies are brought in while a group of villains starts targeting and killing legacy heroes and their families. As we eventually discover there’s one longstand, quite old villain behind all this with the idea that he would take out all the heroes and eventually build a new age with himself as the leader. But, the point he missed (somewhat foolishly when you really think about it) is that the heroes of the JSA and DCU aren’t there because of blood, they’re there because they were inspired by the ones that came before. All of this is beautifully rendered by Dale Eaglesham who was absolutely born to draw superheroes in all their glory.
As usual, Johns does a lot in these issues. You’ve got the youthful enthusiasm of Cyclone bouncing off all these jaded heroes, but also Stargirl who was in a similar position not too long ago. There’s also the tragic nature of Steel and Damage, two characters who have all kinds of survivors guilt. Meanwhile, there’s also one of my all-time favorite hero couples in comics: Hourman and Liberty Belle. I just love how much fun these two characters seem to have each other both because they’re in love, but because they share the same love of adventure and justice that comes with their chose profession.
While this particular reading project is focused on the Justice League this book and the next one made me want to first re-read Kingdom Come and then go through the three volumes of the JSoA story called Thy Kingdom Come. KC has been on my mind for a while, ever since I read Marvels, so the timing seems pretty perfect!
Justice League Of America: The Lightning Saga (DC)
Written by Brad Meltzer & Geoff Johns, drawn by Shane Davis, Fernando Pasarin, Ed Benes, Dale Eaglesham, Gene Ha & Eric Wight
Collects Justice League Of America # 0, 8-12 & Justice Society Of America # 5-6
The return of both superhero teams lead to something that had never been done before: an honest to goodness JLA/JSA crossover. Sure, the teams had appeared in each others’ books as well as graphic novels like JLA/JSA: Virtue And Vice, but this was the first actual crossover. Adding to the fun of the proceedings, this event revolved around a third iconic DC superteam: the Legion Of Super-Heroes.
As I mentioned when reviewing Johns’ run on Superman, the new, post-Infinite Crisis Legion Of Super-Heroes was actually a continuation of the old team. Since Superman had been retconned into getting his powers much earlier than was previously seen in the post-Crisis continuity, that allowed him to join the Legion as Superboy and open a lot of those stories back up into usable territory. That meant that their return in this story would have an emotional impact for the Man of Steel. As Meltzer and Johns handled it, that emotional impact, thankfully, wasn’t a sappy one, but the kind where you don’t understand why your friends seem to be messing with you for no good reason.
Basically, a small group of Legionnaires was sent back in time to help bring someone back to life using lightning rods. They’ve been hanging out in the current timeline for an undisclosed amount of time and need to hear a magic word to come out of their cover identities. Once they do and everyone’s been found, they go about their mission without either League. But who are they trying to get back? None other than Wally West and his family.
This was kind of a strange reveal when reading this book out of the context of the rest of the ongoing DCU from that time because I had completely forgotten that Wally wasn’t around anymore. Part of me thought it was Barry Allen, but then I remembered he reappeared in Final Crisis. Within the context of this story and Meltzer’s previous arc, the reveal doesn’t actually pack that much of a punch because I’m fairly certain that Wally isn’t mentioned once. As such, bringing him back without even explaining where he was in any kind of detail or how he got there made this more of an, “Oh, okay,” ending instead of a “AHHHHH HOLY CRAP!!!” one. Still it’s a fun story that features a lot of great action and character moments.
The book ends with three more JLoA issues. One is drawn or possibly painted by Gene Ha and features Red Arrow and Vixen trying to survive in a building that’s been blown up and has slid into the ocean. It’s a story that showcases why these people are heroes and what makes them keep fighting even when things look hopeless. The next issue, “Monitor Duty,” examines the team through the eyes of two old timey JLA members while also examining the relationships and the zero issue looks at the past, present and future of the group through the annual meetings held by Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I remember combing over this issue when it came out, trying to figure out what the future issues and arcs of the book would hold.
This book wraps up Metlzer’s run on Justice League Of America and like I said above, I’ve got a new found love for this run. I think he came at these characters from a place of love and crafted stories that he thought would showcase why these characters deserve to still be read about all these years after their creation.