DCN takes another trip down memory lane, this time a retelling of the Justice League’s origin. Check out our review of this oft-overlooked story!
DC Comics’ current talent lineup boasts some fairly impressive names. Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, Grant Morrison, Gail Simone and Jeff Lemire are just some of the premier writers that are at work building the current DC Universe. But wind back the clock by 15 years, and the talent pool looks vastly different. While Morrison was a part of the DC family back then, he was joined by the writing talents of Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and James Robinson. Move forward a few years and you’ll see the names Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka playing in the DC sandbox. And among them all was a writer that continues to sell titles on the strength of his name: Mark Waid.
Waid, whose work for DC includes his runs on The Flash, The Brave and the Bold, and the seminal Kingdom Come, was tasked with a 12-issue maxiseries which sought to reimagine the first meeting of the Justice League. Waid, himself a student of comics’ history, was joined by Brian Augustyn and Barry Kitson to form the trio of storytellers for the series.
This is a Justice League story which keeps the involvement of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to a minimum. While this would normally be a red flag (see: Justice League Detroit, Extreme Justice), JLA: Year One’s strength is the limited involvement of the Trinity. Waid and Augustyn’s script flourishes on the personalities and dynamics of the cast. The story presented is not one of bombastic action on an interplanetary scale, but rather one of how five extraordinary individuals of varied backgrounds are able to find a way to work together. Here, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen are made interesting well before Geoff Johns was able to get his hands on them. J’onn J’onnz’s struggle with human culture is material that has been mined in the past, yet it feels new and uncharted territory in Waid’s hands.
Black Canary, the sole female in the main ensemble, is a strong and assertive character. Writers have struggled developing characters of the fairer se, but this series’ storytellers do so with ease. Black Canary is arguably the central character of this story, fighting to overcome the shadow of her mother (the JSA’s Black Canary) and define who she is, while trying to earn respect in an “all boys club.”
Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, arguably the best buddies in the DCU that aren’t Booster Gold and Blue Beetle, are a blast to watch play off each other. Hal Jordan quickly assumes the role of team spokesman and, unsurprisingly, fancies himself as the leader. He also [unsuccessfully] is in constant pursuit of Black Canary’s affections… or something to that effect. The fun is that while Hal continues to run his mouth to the press, the rest of the team looks to Barry for guidance.
Waid and Augustyn use Barry Allen to act as the ordinary guy in the group. Well, as ordinary as a guy with super-speed can be. For him, the Justice League is a second job, and with it comes the idiosyncrasies of a workplace environment. He is also put in the uncomfortable position of maintaining a friendly, professional work relationship with Black Canary without leading her on, as he is the only one of the group with a significant other in civilian life. This leads to some strong character moments, both interacting with Black Canary but also his aforementioned fiancée, Iris West. Also, Barry maintains his characterization as a fanboy of Golden-Age heroes of past generations.
The script does not try to update Silver-Age concepts; it instead revels in them. A monster is created by stealing the body parts of different League members? Not a problem. There source of the JLA’s funds are from a mystery man that wishes to remain anonymous? No need to investigate there. How about a press conference to announce the team’s formation? Sounds great! While this may not appeal to fans of grim and gritty or “serious” comics, the multitude of elements from yesteryear’s comics add a healthy dose of fun amidst the character development.
Also, the inclusion of Green Arrow in his 1940s-1950s garb, and the seeding of his future relationship with Canary, brought a big smile to my face.
Aquaman is an unfortunate casualty of the ensemble cast. With twelve issues to tell this story, one would think a bit more time could be devoted to the guy who patrols 75% of the planet. Geoff Johns’ recent run with the character (in both the pages of Aquaman and Justice League) has proved that great things can be done with the King of Atlantis. Partial blame goes to the Silver Age influence, which gives Aquaman an outdated power set and non-existent personality.
As mentioned before, the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are not the focus of this story. While we are fortunate to receive acknowledgement of Batman and Superman’s existence in this world, Wonder Woman is surprisingly absent. Though her exclusion does not necessarily harm the story, I feel that her inclusion would make this a more complete picture of the early DC Universe. All they had to do was just draw her in the background.
JLA: Year One deserves a spot alongside Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier as one of the best Justice League stories ever told. The polished script by Waid and Augustyn, combined with Barry Kitson’s wonderful art updates the origin of DC’s most iconic team while embracing the fun and goofiness of Silver Age comics. The character interactions and coupled with great action makes for a page-turner that keeps the reader invested from cover to cover. Readers looking for a big story with heroes acting as heroes should definitely pick this up either digitally, in trade, or in the back-issue bins of their local comic book store.