Reliability. That’s what to expect from “Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin”, a fresh take on the story that brought DC’s premier super team together. And why wouldn’t it be reliable? Its writer and artist, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee respectively, are two of the most reliable creators in comics, handling one the most reliable brands: the Justice League.
If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, it isn’t. However, this book turns out to be an entertaining telling of the League’s first adventure against one of comicdom’s most significant threats. Johns focuses primarily on the team’s dynamics as we are treated, one by one, to their introduction to one another as Earth is overrun by the Parademons of Apokolips.
The story opens in Gotham City, five years ago, as the Batman races after a Parademon while the local authorities chase both Dark Knight and the creature down. Green Lantern appears, his ring has instructed him of an extraterrestrial presence, and an unwilling team-up get off the ground. Johns establishes quickly that superheroes have not yet been embraced by the public, so the Gotham P.D. sees Batman and Green Lantern as part of the threat.
Lee’s pencils are astonishing right from the get go as Batman leaps after his prey while getting shot at by the police. Inker Scott Williams has been tasked with covering every minute detail of Lee’s careful pencil work and the result is a book filled with rich pages of carefully rendered characters and backgrounds. The inclusion of Green Lantern allows colorists Alex Sinclair to employ fantastic techniques to make the hero’s constructs look as fantastic as they ever have. Green Lantern glows bright with faint waves of light swirling around him; Sinclair innovatively brings an otherworldliness to the look of Lantern.
Both heroes head to Metropolis to determine if that city’s resident alien is familiar with the Mother Box they found during their melee with the Parademon. Superman does not respond well to their impromptu interrogation and soon finds himself in the middle of a tussle with the two heroes and Green Lantern’s buddy, the Flash. Lee and team deliver more impressive two-page splashes featuring the showdown between Superman and his future teammates; Lee and Sinclair present a battle with dizzying details, from Lee’s updated costumes to the wreckage left in the heroes’ paths, while Sinclair surrounds the characters in a haze that doesn’t obscure the artwork. The majority of the book looks terrific, but there are pages in the third chapter that look rushed, both in coloring and inks.
By the fourth chapter, Johns and Lee have brought the entire team together as the fight takes them across the United States, coming no closer to what the actual threat is until it’s too late. “Origin” also retells the story of teenage football player Vic Stone who, when caught in the path of an electrifying Boom Tube, is mutilated by the horrifying power of the Apokoliptic form of travel. Vic’s father Silas, a scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs, retrofits his son with incredible technology that saves the young man and turns him into the League’s seventh member: Cyborg.
The main fault of the story is that it’s overly straightforward. Parademons appear and the heroes take them on, bickering along the way until they all join together. At that point Darkseid appears to take the heroes on, the team triumphs and they become the Justice League. Done. There is nothing layered or complex about the structure of the story and little in the way of surprises by the time we reach the final chapter.
But, and there is a big but, Geoff Johns’ quick jaunt from A to Z is an entertaining one. The writer has given us a League for a new generation, not just with new costumes but a new reason for being and more grounded dynamics. This is a team of potential leaders who need to learn to work together while taking on a world threat; they’re unable to immediately trust one another or to decide to take direction from strangers. Johns understands how far to push the lack of camaraderie and his choices are common sense ones.
“What can you do?” asks Superman of Batman at the close of the first chapter. It’s an ongoing joke in “Origin” as Batman’s teammates learn that the Dark Knight has no abilities above that of mortal man. Johns keeps the dialogue between these new heroes light and results make for a pleasing story.
Flash: You can see through things?
Superman: Most of the time.
Flash: What can you do Batman?
Batman: I can keep us on point.
However, there are a few scenes that don’t serve to make the characters appealing. In Wonder Woman’s introductory chapter she enjoys her first ice cream and it is, tonally, a tad too light for the book. When Aquaman first appears he asks, “So who’s in charge here? I vote me.” In this brief piece of cocky dialogue Johns goes too far in trying to present a tough guy version of Aquaman. Still, most of Johns’ characterizations and dialogue are on point, such as when Batman immediately discerns that Flash speaks like a cop.
Playing up the relationship between Batman and Green Lantern in “Origin” is far more interesting than had Johns chosen to tell a story centered on Batman and Superman. This would have taken us to too familiar a place. Superman has his own problems in “Origin”. After his introduction, he is moved far into the background with little to do but become a plot device for the story’s final act. Besides Cyborg’s physical state, Green Lantern goes through the biggest transformation as he moves from an egotistical rookie cop to a potential team leader by the final chapter.
The tweaks to Cyborg’s origin are fine and it allows us a glimpse into what non-super powered folks might be thinking about this new age of flying men and women who have unimaginable abilities. When Vic is upset that his father didn’t come to his football game, Dr. Stone slaps his son with a hard dose of reality: “Open your eyes son! Look at the world we live in today! We’re witnessing the birth of a new race of people. Super-humans, beings who can fly, tear through buildings and outrun race cars. They will make what you can ‘do’ obsolete! Do you understand? Catching footballs and scoring touchdowns is a joke!”
Some readers may have a problem with the brief way Darkseid is utilized in the story. The thing is, he’s really just a catalyst. He’s on hand to show that there are some awful things out there and they can strike at any moment. Who better than Darkseid to make this point? The villain’s immediate and powerful strike against Earth serves as a warning that the Justice League is necessary because there are threats that are bigger than any one member of the team.
Johns also fits in some nice Easter Eggs along the way. Thomas Morrow appears. The multiverse is referenced. The Secret Society coin is featured. William Magnus, Anthony Ivo, Ryan Choi and Amazo all get slight shout-outs as Cyborg’s technology uploads.
Lee, who was responsible for redesigning many of the new costumes, makes the characters’ new body armor uniforms look mostly spectacular. The real accomplishment is Batman’s impressive new suit. It’s textured with panels that looks as though a gadget could pop out of just about any corner. Aquaman, on the other hand, had a few accoutrements to his costume that did little to enhance the Sea King’s look, namely his turquoise necklace and a chain that connected his belt to his trident. Being something of a purist when it comes to certain characters, I also wasn’t taken with the more demonic look of Darkseid’s henchman Desaad.
“Origin” has it faults, but none of them take the story off course. Johns has a great time collecting his characters as they quickly realize that working on a team can be equally as challenging as taking on a threat as serious as Darkseid. So, you see, there are worse things than being reliable.
Justice League Vol. 01, Origin
Written by: Geoff Johns
Art: Jim Lee
Inks: Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Mark Irwin, Joe Weems, Matt Banning
Colors: Alex Sinclair, Gabe Eltaeb, Hi-Fi, Tony Avina
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Publisher: DC Comics