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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Justice #1 - Oct. 2005

Comics Weekend "Justice"

Hey there everyone! Shrine Correspondent Andy Luckett here with a review of the first issue of Justice, the 12-issue maxi-series from 2005/2006 by Jim Krueger, Alex Ross and Doug Braithwaite.

Before we jump into the review, let me take a second to explain why this series (along with most of Alex Ross' DC work) appeals so much to me. I grew up in the 80's (and a bit in the 90's) and since my dad was/is a DC Comics fan from way back, that's what I was exposed to from my earliest days. Super Friends was perhaps my first exposure, followed by DC titles from the 60s and 70s - Justice League, Aquaman, Batman, Metal Men, Brave and the Bold, etc. But the Super Powers line hit at just the right time for me to really get into DC characters, and I devoured anything related to it I could find. So to me, the time period of DC Comics represented by José Luis García-López's stock art is "my" DC. And, to a large extent, it's Alex Ross' too. So with a project like Justice, featuring the classic (with a bit of retconning) lineups of the JLA and the Legion of Doom in Ross' style? I'd be on board even if every word balloon was authentic frontier gibberish, but thankfully Ross and Jim Krueger crafted an entertaining and mature story to match the stunning artwork. So enough of my biography, let's talk Justice!

The covers above recall the opening of Challenge of the Superfriends; with both teams charging at each other. It's a very direct and iconic way to communicate the never-ending battle between these characters. And the issue opens with a series of bangs: massive, possibly nuclear, explosions are occurring all over the globe. Superman attacks the problem in Metropolis, but he is quickly overwhelmed by the staggering loss of life as he fails to save anyone. He calls Wonder Woman, who is battling the same problem in Rome but having little success as well. The Flash is able to put out the fires in Central City but all of the city's population perishes. Superman finds the Martian Manhunter dead from exposure to flame. Green Lantern is able to rescue a handful of civilians but has nowhere safe to put them. Green Arrow and Black Canary find themselves trapped in Star City; Hawkman and Hawkgirl fall from the sky. Aquaman stands on the shore, telling a panicked crowd that the oceans are boiling and provide no protection from the disaster. Finally, the Earth can hold no more, and the planet explodes, as Superman flies out into space, watching another homeworld shatter.
Suddenly we see a man shoot awake from a dream. It's Black Manta, and his Legion of Doom compatriots Cheetah, the Riddler, and Toyman are all having the same nightmare. It seems the entire Legion of Doom lineup is suffering from the same apocalyptic nightmare each night. We are then treated to a two-page splash of the full Justice League lineup by Ross and Braithwaite:
Then the scene shifts to another gorgeous splash of Atlantis, where Aquaman is also having trouble sleeping. He wakes up Mera by talking to himself, and they discuss his ambivalence regarding his connection to both the kingdom of the undersea and the world of the surface. He senses that something is out of place in the nearby area, and sure enough, a shark arrives with just such a message. Arthur says his loving goodbyes to his family and heads off to investigate.
A man in a bowler hat looks out over a harbor, and glances at a pocket watch. He realizes it must be time for "Leonard" to follow through with his part of the plan. Sure enough, in a vast desert, Captain Cold (aka Leonard Snart) drives a dune buggy to an uninhabited plain, points his cold gun at the sand and creates a giant mountain of solid ice. He then instructs his local companion to "Tell everyone. And if they don't believe you, show them what I did here."
Back near Atlantis, Aquaman comes across the source of his unease: a giant black orb sunk into the ocean floor. All of the sea creatures are wary of it, and it fills Aquaman with a sense of foreboding as well. Black Manta suddenly attacks, and Aquaman tears into Manta's men, making short work of them. Manta cuts Aquaman's chest with a wicked-looking gun, and somehow forces sharks to attack him. Aquaman fights valiantly but is overwhelmed and mauled into unconsciousness.
Manta and his men carry Aquaman inside the dome and into an undersea meeting area where Lex Luthor is waiting. He and Manta discuss their common nightmare, and neither knows when the events they have foreseen will occur. Luthor tells Manta that according to the dream, the Justice League was unable to save the world, so it is up to the Legion. Luthor then motions to a very familiar-looking seating area, in front of which the unconscious Aquaman is slumped.
With this much Aqua-content, how could this opening issue not be a slam dunk? Aquaman gets around ten pages of solo action, including appearances by Black Manta, Mera, Arthur Jr, and even Storm the seahorse. While he is captured, he isn't defeated easily and comes across as powerful and in charge. There is some playful banter with Mera ("Have a nice day saving the Seven Seas, dear") and a nod to the dichotomy of Arthur's allegiances. Very well done.

The opening crisis is a bold way to begin the series. While we know that it can't be actually happening, it still draws the reader in by asking, "What if something happened that not even the entire Justice League could stop at all?" And the idea that the Legion of Doom members are so shaken by their nightmares that they (seemingly) want to save the Earth is a nice change to the usual "supervillain scheme of the week" setup. All in all, this issue is heavy on 'setting the stage,' but it does so in engaging ways. And the art is magnificent. The color and composition, and the sense of movement and action capture a version of this universe that in my mind is a contender for the definitive take on the mythos. I suppose this story could be looked at as an unofficial prequel to Kingdom Come, if one were so inclined.

I know it sounds like I'm gushing over this series, and I guess I am. But this to me is the good stuff. This is the kind of presentation that reminds me why I fell in love with DC Comics so long ago. Now I do have a couple of small criticisms of this series as a whole, which I will get to in later reviews. But honestly I see so much to like here that it outweighs the missteps for me. But let me know in the comments how you feel about this series, or this issue.

As a capper, here's the Batcave files on Aquaman and Black Manta from the back of the issue. See you next time!



Joe Slab said...

Justice was a masterpiece!
Great recap Andy :)

Russell said...

Nice job gushing, Andy! :-) I, too, loved this series. I was a tad disappointed that it started with Aquaman getting captured, but subsequent issues showed all the heroes under the gun as it were, so in the end I didn't mind. At the time I was annoyed, though.
Looking forward to reading your whole recap.

Liked how the heroes' cover is the Magnificent Seven but the bad guys' cover is a whole slew of characters from the Legion of Doom (and Poison Ivy).

Wings1295 said...

Amazing series! Great recap!

Jorge PR said...

I always loved this series, so thanks for the recap.

Like Russell though, I got mad at the idea that it always had to be Arthur the one getting captured the first. I remember when reading it that I thought "not again, now all the series will be about the JL rescuing Aquaman", but they all got their share.

EJ said...

I love Ross and Krueger's Justice, it was the first time that I read something that showcased how awesome Aquaman could be.

Michael Holloway said...

I absolutely LOVE these stories which I have in a hardcover anthology called "Absolute Justice". Yes, it was expensive, but *SO* worth it. It's a fantastic story with beautiful art, and of course, the Aquaman scenes were my favourite.