Issues of the Day – “Justice League of America” #1 (February 2013)

March 1, 2013

The New 52’s JLA makes its debut–but will you want to read it? Daniel and Mike delve into issue #1.

Do you feel this story represents the Justice League well?

Dan:  When I think Justice League of America, I equate the phrase as being the same as Justice League.  And I really thought they had an opportunity here to create a spinoff title for the League in the mold of the cancelled Justice League International.  Basically, DC could have taken the opportunity to expand the League proper and use Justice League of America to highlight the stories of the League beyond the founders.  In many ways if done right they could have made the transition that Bruce Timm took when he changed over successfully the animated Justice League to Justice League Unlimited.  Instead this title feels as related to the League as Justice League Dark, which really isn’t linked at all in my opinion.  So I really kind of question if I should consider this title part of the Justice League family until and if the JSA is formally incorporated into the Justice League family.

Mike:  What a grim and joyless slog this issue is! When I think Justice League of America, I think about a superhero team that is so called because it embodies all that is best about our country, larger-than-life men and women who live up to the ideals that all Americans aspire to: not just the truth and justice of Superman’s personal mission statement, but other noble ideals like liberty, harmony, fair play, respect for individuals, passion for knowledge, self-motivation… all the positive attributes that have made the United States what it is. Are we a perfect country? No, of course not; what earthly nation is? But, trite though it may sound, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, and I am stirred every Fourth of July when I think about this grand experiment in the self-government of a free people.

Now, do I want the JLA to be perfect? Not really. Perfect heroes don’t make for very exciting stories. But, I certainly think any superhero team bearing America’s name ought to comport itself better than this crew does.

  • A sword-wielding assassin bent on revenge? The tagline for her own spin-off title (advertised in this issue) is “Mysterious. Dangerous. Treacherous.” Oh, boy, that sounds like someone I want representing my nation.
  • Catwoman, the burglar, clad in her ridiculously clingy leather peepshow wardrobe? Because, you know, crime is sexy. There’s a good American value. Sigh.
  • And what is this with Hawkman? No one knows who he is or what his real story is (not unlike comic fans throughout the character’s convoluted history, I grant you), but he seems sadistic and totally indifferent to anyone’s standard of justice but his own. But, that’s okay, we’ll use him to serve the country’s interest because it’s expedient to do so.

Sorry, but I’m too worried that we’re doing that in the real world, between “unmanned aerial vehicles” (read: drones) and “enhanced interrogation techniques” (read: torture). It’s not enough that the United States, for the last decade, under administrations of both parties, has been tarnishing its reputation in the real world’s eyes—now we’re going to have the “Justice League of America” do so in the fictional world of the DCU?

Does this story conform to canon?

Mike: I gather that it conforms to current New 52 canon, yes, given that Amanda Waller uses Superman and Wonder Woman’s super-smooch to motivate Steve Trevor to work with her in forming and leading the JLA. Because, of course, Steve Trevor is as petty and mean-spirited as any of the rest of us. Plus, he makes dorky Empire Strikes Back references. Oh, joy.

Dan:  I freely admit that DC is creating new canon.  So I am left with questions from what I have read exclusively in the first year of the trades.  First, last time I saw Martian Manhunter no one knew of his existence, literally wiping memories of himself away from Green Lanterns… seriously, Green Lanterns.  Now, with a gap between where the trades are and current issues, I have to assume that Martian Manhunter has come into the open.  And speaking of being out in the open, when did the government learn about Oliver Queen’s recreational activities? And when did Steve Trevor and Oliver Queen become drinking buddies?  I guess in the twelve-month gap I am currently working with, a lot happened in the New 52.  I just think it would be nice if they had caught some of us up in a frame or two.

What did you like the most?

Mike: Um… uh… er… The art? Actually, David Finch’s splash page of whomever Batman and the others are tracking on page 3 is striking. I also will say that I liked Star Girl. I’m not a fan of teenaged girls in midriff-baring costumes (see Michael Turner’s Supergirl from last decade—thank goodness Jamal Igle came along to make her more modest), but I wouldn’t mind reading more about Courtney Whitmore. If she ever gets her own book, I’m there. (If only to find out why she has a glowing pentagram on her floor—I do hope she’s not a Satanist or something. That would be disappointing. Come to think of it, then, since this book is all about the disappointing, she probably is.)

Dan:  I really like origin stories.  I really like watching the pieces of a team puzzle being put together in front of us.  If anything, I could have used more pages covering this activity.  In fact I would prefer to see every member getting their own recruitment sequence.  I read these pages and got a Dirty Dozen type of feel as Amanda Waller and Trevor put their team together.  In fact I would argue that Justice League of America does a better job with the recruitment sequence than a similar title in Secret Avengers, where the recruitment feels like an infomercial and the audience is not let onto why Hawkeye and Black Widow signed on.  Here we generally understand the motivation for each member to sign the dotted line.

And, Mike, as for Catwoman, I like that Geoff Johns is giving her some respect! Johns understood he needed a strong female character on the field team, and I really liked the fact that this character, whom some see as second tier, was painted as being the check to Batman.  Wow, they seriously just put Catwoman on the Batman level, and I bought it!  Wow!  And I like the fact that by having her join the JSA they further make this version of Catwoman grey as she is a thief on a team of heroes.  That is sure to cause tension in future issues. Waller does warn that her addition should be considered for the Suicide Squad instead.  And maybe this is what this title truly is, a more public Suicide Squad.  If this is true that means to me that JSA will take on more public missions but still be seen as expendable by Waller.

Mike: All right, I’ll give you that. Just have her pull up her front zipper some more, huh?

Dan: I also liked the variant cover concept. I chose the Iowa flag, in honor of Iowa native son Koby Radcliffe!

Which cover did you get?

Mike: I grabbed the New York cover off my LCS shelf. I meant to get the standard cover, actually; I sell recent issues I don’t plan to keep through Lone Star Comics’ online service, and they are well-stocked in all the variants for at least two years. Oh, well.

Dan: I have decided to keep this issue solely because of the variant cover instead of unloading it online—though I find myself reviewing this decision since I can’t believe I will reread this issue again.

What did you like the least?

Mike:  The framing device of the clandestine conversation between Waller and Trevor. Again, I had no idea going in that this series would be about a quasi-covert effort to keep tabs on and maybe even take down the Justice League proper. I won’t say I thoroughly hate that premise—it’s intriguing in its own way, and can be well done (see the Justice League Unlimited cartoon)—but I wasn’t expecting it going into this new JLA title. I suppose I can only blame myself.

I wanted to read this book because Martian Manhunter was making a comeback. He was one of my favorites in the animated Justice League, but he’s not that character here, at least not quite. He’s another one I would give a chance to in a stand-alone title, but, here, he’s just big, dark, and spooky.

Dan:  There were a number of disappointments for me.  First this issue and Aquaman 16 are both written by Geoff Johns.  And Johns also writes Justice League.  So I thought and some of the podcasts I listen to speculated that Justice League of America would be tied into the use of the Justice League auxiliaries in The Throne of Atlantis.  This was a reasonable expectation since Hawkman appeared in Aquaman 16 and is a featured hero in Justice League of America.  And the end of The Throne of Atlantis opens the door to the enlargement of the League.  Additionally, the formation of the JLA is foreshadowed in that story, including providing the opening frame of the JLA story found in this issue.  But this title is not a growth of the League but a fearful reaction to the League.  The Justice League of America does include use of the back-ups that Cyborg called to duty, except for Hawkman.  No, instead the JSA is called together from other chess pieces to counter the heavyweights of the Justice League.  So instead of calling this Justice League of America we should name this title Anti-Justice League.  This is especially true as I question if the League would even consider some of these members for membership due to their temperaments and pasts.

Mike: Yes! Well-said.

Dan: Second, they needed to give us more on each member of the team.  So they introduce the fact that a human Green Lantern is part of the team.  But this Lantern is not John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner or Hal Jordan.  Okay, I do know that he is the new Lantern Simon Baz, and I know some of the background behind him.  However, I have not read anything with him yet, and I have read a lot of the early New 52.  But I am around a year behind focusing on the trades.  Basically, Baz is a new enough character I needed more background on him for me.  I need more than a cold introduction on him.

Third, where’s Aquaman?  I mean other than discovering that Hawkman is the counter to Aquaman, which I guess shows Aquaman’s importance since the JSA’s biggest name is Aquaman’s opposite.

Fourth, I really did not need the non-introduction of the super villains that the JSA will be facing off against.  I could have been satisfied with a page of introduction, but instead they had to introduce them early and included an image that shows  Batman and Wonder Woman chasing a character, to the death.  Since they just left us with this image I find myself now waiting for the trade to find out if they are brainwashed, doppelgangers or robots.  The image was not enough to make me want more and just enough to make me confused.  Sadly it did not pay off in leaving me with a strong feeling of mystery.

Mike: Interesting. As I said, I found that image, and, frankly, the whole chase sequence, pretty intriguing. Perhaps issue #2 will clear things up?

Dan: Well, it could have been done here, as already displayed in Justice League of America #17 where two frames hint at this super-villain groups formation and even provides us information to potential members! If we could have cut this out of the issue there could have been more pages for the more detailed JSA member recruitment.

Mike: No argument there. Maybe that would have made me appreciate the characters more.

Do you see spiritual applications in this story?

Dan:  I really think this story shows an excellent example of the biblical truth that “God helps those that help themselves.”  Amanda Waller has a super problem: how will she counter a potential future where the Justice League, from its Watchtower on high, decides to make the world conform to its beliefs? So clearly she has to put together her own controllable team that can check the powers of the Justice League.  I believe that fact that Waller uses intimidation and blackmail and is willing to lie to the general public about the nature of her team and its members is completely acceptable since she is following a biblical truth.

Mike: You do know that “truth” is not in the Bible, right?

Dan:  Oh, Mike, I know that’s in my Bible. I have heard it quoted enough as biblical truth, I know it’s in there.  Let me do a quick search; it has to be a proverb or a psalm…

Mike: (whistles the theme from “Jeopardy!”)

Dan:  Hey, Mike, maybe you should take it from here. It appears I need to find a translation that actually has the line it because I am not finding it anywhere.

Mike: Well-played, sir! I think you’ve just pointed out for us how far off the spiritual mark this story falls. Ends don’t justify means. What does Psalm 1 teach us? “The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (1.6, NRSV). I hope Trevor and Waller will come around to the side of the angels, before all is said and done.

I will put in a word for that chase sequence you didn’t like, though. Again, I’ve no idea who this creature being pursued is, but I found his interior monologue pretty compelling. He throws up a desperate prayer for deliverance, only to be met with silence: “I wait for a streak of lightning or a bird to fly by. I wait for some kind of divine intervention to point the way. But there’s nothing. So I do what I did the last time. I tell God to go screw himself. I’ll find my own way home.”

Now, I don’t know whether this guy will be a “bad guy” in the scheme of things or not, but, at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I give him points for some brutal honesty before God. (I suspect he actually used a verb more forceful than “screw,” and that Johns has slightly softened it for general consumption). I don’t, of course, recommend cursing God out as a matter of course; but the Bible is full of examples that show us such honest cries of the heart are, in fact, acceptable prayers—or, at the very least, that God is not somehow scared off by them. There are more psalms of lament than of praise in the psalter; and, at the end of the book of Job, after Job has spent thirty-some chapters calling out God to God’s face, demanding an explanation for and relief from his suffering, while his “friends” have been espousing orthodox theology in God’s defense the whole time, God renders this surprising decision:  “The Lord  said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has’” (Job 42.7, NRSV). Job’s God-talk, as heated and as argumentative as it often was, was “what was right.” Textbook theological answers in the face of his pain were wrong.

Again, I don’t know that this guy being hunted is blameless like Job—but that moment reminded me that it’s okay to get angry with God. God can take it—and, as the psalms and Job show, God can use it to, in the end, bring us closer to him.

Do you plan to stick with the series?

Dan:  Monthly, no I do not.  Maybe I will pick up the collected trade when it comes out so I can read the whole storyline at once.  But I just cannot see myself buying the monthly issues.

Mike: Me neither. But if anyone wants to rewatch the Justice League cartoons, let me know!

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9 comments on “Issues of the Day – “Justice League of America” #1 (February 2013)

  1. Daniel…you mentioned listening to comic podcasts. What other podcast would you dare listen to other than The Sci-Fi Christian?!?

  2. Daniel Mar 1, 2013

    Somebody was foolish enough to tell me about the Fire and Water Podcast, which drops a lot of information about Aquaman of course!

  3. Daniel Mar 1, 2013

    I really want to compliment Michael on this one. With our process for writing these, one of us only sees their side while the other edits it all together. I really feel the Mike comments on this issue are fantastic insights into an issue that he was not a fan of. Yet, he was still able to find some real truth. And having read it, I kick myself for not mentioning the prayer and questioning if these are the heroes America needs. I would answer no.

    And his editing on this one even makes my writing look good!

  4. Daniel Mar 1, 2013

    But to plug myself.

    Here is my review of a similar Disney, I mean Marvel book, at Between Disney
    http://www.betweendisney.com/2013/03/comic-corner-secret-avengers-1.html

  5. Michael Mar 1, 2013

    Thanks, Daniel, but it’s a joint process! I would never have been able to bring the DCU context that you did.

    I neglected to mention that my variant cover gives us the amusing fact of having the word “EXCELSIOR” – apparently NY state’s motto as well as Marvel Comics’ catchphrase – on the front cover of a DC book! 🙂

  6. Great article, once again. I love how you are both working on these issues together. It’s very entertaining to get two perspectives. It sure sounds like JLA is not living up to what it COULD be, and that is really sad.

  7. Daniel Mar 12, 2013

    Wow…7!

    And to think Batman Incorporated 8 came out within the same month!

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