I’m not one for re-starting series willy nilly, but if ever a book deserved a new #1 it’s Brian Bendis and David Marquez’ Justice League. Even though the story continues from recent DC Universe events, it feels as fresh as a Themysciran daisy.
The issue opens in the Hall of Justice with a conversation between an off-page Black Canary and Green Arrow about what the Justice League should mean in 2021
Across the world, the ruler of Kahndaq is attacked by a monstrous figure.
The League arrive to turn the tide of battle. Literally.
Realising he’s bitten off more than he can chew, the creature- ‘Call me Brutus’ – retreats, vowing to return when he’s better prepared.
Back at base, as team members search out information, Ollie and Dinah – who weren’t on the Kahndaq mission – bring their colleagues into their discussion.
Ollie is thinking new members, but that interruption by Superman’s Valet, Kelex, puts paid to the the discussion. For now.
Bendis and Marquez firmly plant their flag in my old JLA fan’s heart by putting Dinah and Ollie at the heart of their team. It seems like decades since we’ve had them both in the same line-up, bickering when they’re not canoodling. And having Ollie suggest diversifying the membership is perfect. Yes, the League has had members of varying cultural and racial backgrounds, different sexualities and planetary origins. They’ve even had an android or two. But Green Arrow is the guy who would remind everyone not to rest on their laurels – to be true to their origins as the Justice League of America, even with the geotag dropped, it must be inclusive. I want to hear more of what Ollie has to say.
Right now, though, there’s the entertainingly curious Brutus to be tracked down, and new hero Naomi looks set to be the key to finding him. And Black Adam will be a key player in taking him down, setting him up for JL membership. But how will Hippolyte, currently mourning the loss of her daughter Diana, come in? And will she go by her Silver Age title of Wonder Queen (oh, please!)? We know she’s coming, she’s right there on the cover, obvious to anyone who caught the recent, terrific Endless Winter event; that heavy shade is fooling no one.
All that black on Marquez’ cover image, coloured by Tamra Bonvillain, is actually a bit of a headscratcher. I first saw the picture months ago, promoting this new run as a tease towards the new line-up, and expected the veil to be lifted for the actual issue. Show me those faces, DC, give me a ComiXology update or something!
There’s no problem with clarity as regards interior visuals – Marquez’ layouts pulled me into the pages, opening up a new era for the World’s Greatest Superheroes. His people are ridiculously attractive without being Uncanny Valley – even Brutus has a certain something. That first page with our heroes’ symbols linked into a unit is striking… somewhere a metalworker is banging out a real-life copy. And if not, why not? I want to see the piece without dialogue boxes.
Marquez dials down Black Adam’s traditional harsh look, reversing the receding hairline and making him less Submariner-ish all round – he’s like the original Captain Marvel but with a more noticeable brow and looks altogether more approachable.
Black Adam is certainly a softer figure under Bendis, from his gentle way with a young boy at the beginning to his acceptance of Superman’s reflex imperiousness as the League turns up in Kahndaq. I doubt his haughtiness is gone for good, though – you don’t add Black Adam to a team and shy away from fireworks.
As for Naomi, she turns up for a panel or two but immediately makes an impression with her refusal to play by the old rules. I like this kid.
Bendis’ script sparkles, the dialogue naturalistic without being mannered. The only question I have concerns Brutus’ entrance on the scene, as he asks ‘Did that look weird?’ Did what look weird? He may mean his crossing over to Earth 0, but we don’t see that moment.
The only other glitch in the issue is a cameoing Barry Allen being coloured as Wally West. Minor communication problem aside, there’s nothing I don’t love in Tamra Bonvillain’s colour art. The heroes pop, the skies are gorgeous and the effects are stunning, especially one involving. Hawkgirl’s mace. The lettering, too, is excellent, courtesy of Josh Reed – it’s enticingly friendly.
A marvellous Justice League story isn’t all this issue has to offer, we also get a superb Justice League Dark back-up – there are 30 story pages now. The feature sees an old ally of one member take a distinctly dark turn, while John Constantine squires Zatanna to Mexico on the DC equivalent of a city break.
Ram V’s narrative is delicately crafted, conjuring an eerie mood while laying out some lovely character beats. He gets major points for John’s very personal spellcraft – I hate it when he’s presented as a point-and-zap mage. And extra marks for setting part of the tale here in the UK… maybe former JLI member Godiva will show up (I am not requesting a Beefeater appearance, though).
Xermanico’s artwork is splendidly moody, especially when he changes style for a flashback. Zee and John look terrific, even if our backwards-talking witch is wearing those demented fishnet gloves from the New 52. John, meanwhile, has left the old trenchcoat at home, what with them being in steamy Latin America. The outfit Xermanico gives the bad guy is excellent, a nice update on his traditional garb – heck, he looks like one of those Silver Fox grandpas the tabloids feature on occasion.
Colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr and letterer Rob Leigh add to the visual success with moody tones and sympathetic lettering. It looks like we have a rather great new JLD creative team all round.
All in all, this is an excellent opening to the latest Justice League run, it’s so good it deserves the classic shield logo up top. I can think of no greater praise.