52 Skidoo: DC One Year After Relaunch
Justice League #12
After one year, DC unleashes a series of issues in a variety of forms that sum up, slingshot and (perhaps) launch new energy into books. Through articles here on Fanboy Planet and conversations on the Fanboy Planet Podcast, we'll check in with these "new directions" and see what's working.
I'm starting with the work of Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns because he is simultaneously one of DC's strongest writers and one of its most controversial figures. If you've read a headline in mainstream news about a DC Comics event, chances are Geoff Johns masterminded it.
Part 1 examined Aquaman #12. Part 2, Green Lantern Annual #1
Justice League #12
written by Geoff Johns
art by Jim Lee and various
For two weeks, this is the book that everybody -- and that exaggeration includes major newspapers -- was talking about. Why? Because Superman and Wonder Woman become an item. It's already gone into a second printing. Before it hit the shops, it was sold out.
All the hype aside, my personal distaste for the idea aside, how was the actual book? Because, you know, that headline grabbing moment only takes up two or so pages.
It's another case of the good and bad of Geoff Johns' writing. He plots well, but does not play well with other people's toys. And the members of the Justice League are not a group entity; they're individual characters that other writers have been working hard to make believable to us in various solo books.
That's not always the case; in fact, the other books to carry a variation of "Justice League" in their titles feature almost all characters who do not -- or can not -- stand on their own. But here -- these are the big guns of the DC Universe. Two of them Johns himself made big.
The League has their final confrontation with a new villain called "Graves," a former writer who blames the superheroes for the death of his family and his own fatal illness. Shriveled and ghastly, Graves commands otherworldly spirits that force the League into examining their past relationships and survivors' guilt.
Such a plot looks really cool, especially when drawn by superstar and DC publisher Jim Lee. For long-time readers, it highlights one of Johns' weaknesses. Through brief stints on almost every character's solo titles, he has homogenized them. To Johns, heroes are all defined by tragedy. If a character's parent died of natural causes, he has written a story that reveals it was actually a violent death.
Oh, he has a few variations: the Flash's mother was murdered, and he's driven to solve the crime so that he can exonerate his father who languishes in prison. Green Lantern watched his father die in a fiery plane crash. Aquaman's father, long suggested to have just died of old age, was actually killed by Black Manta. My favorite may be the new suggestion that Cyborg actually killed himself in becoming Cyborg. All of them are haunted by Graves' spirits.
That does make Wonder Woman problematic, as she isn't defined by tragedy. She was born and raised into a warrior society of women. Her accusing spirit is Steve Trevor, the man whose heart she broke. (Her excellent solo book by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang has not mentioned Trevor once.)
And Superman, well, that whole doomed planet thing is hard to top.
When Johns writes Green Lantern's solo epic, Hal Jordan's character often informs the plot. When the Justice League gets together, the plot informs characterization. So despite an alleged five years of great teamwork and allusions to fun storylines, the League suddenly gets stricken with doubt. Maybe Graves is right; maybe they are doing more harm than good and should throw their costumes in a trashcan and walk away.
Or maybe Green Lantern should just quit because he's going to be appearing in almost as many books as Wolverine for the next few months.
And maybe Wonder Woman and Superman should start a relationship. After having had a couple of weeks to think about it, the plot won't be that simple. Despite the cover, what's depicted here is really a simple exploration -- a shared moment of loneliness, a tentative kiss -- that actually John Byrne covered twenty-five years ago.
It could turn into an interesting story. The seeds for why the relationship won't work are planted in this issue. Wonder Woman is a warrior, who often shows no mercy to a foe she deems dangerous enough. She has no compunction about killing.
But Superman does. He's decent. He sees the best of us. He is the shining example. Of course he gets lonely, and maybe Diana seems like someone who can be his true companion. Except she kills. He can't overlook that for long.
From this issue, we're promised many things: Wonder Woman confronting an old foe (again hinted at by Steve Trevor earlier in the issue), Aquaman going Marvel when Atlantis Attacks, Shazam finally explaining why he had a back-up feature for a few months, and Cyborg feeling betrayed, because even a Cyborg can cry. And oh yes, Justice League of America, a government-sponsored team with Steve Trevor directly on it.
Johns' epic approach makes them all feel more like playthings bouncing from big event to big event. It's fun, but not weighty. And it's weird, because the same approach in Green Lantern somehow seems much more coherent and truly tied together.
So where is the Justice League going in Year Two? Down roads that all feel strangely familiar. But if you're new to the League, it will still play as fresh.