REVIEW: Justice League #1 – “When Prose Gets in the Way”

Justice League #1

Justice League #1 / Writer: Scott Snyder / Pencils: Jim Cheung / Inks: Mark Morales / Colors: Tomeu Morey / Letters: Tom Napolitano / Released: June 6, 2018 / DC Comics

Justice League #1 cover

The cover of Justice League #1 reads “A new era begins.” The phrase is an acclamation for the issue within. It’s dynamic. It’s full of energy. It is, unfortunately, everything the contents of Justice League #1 are not. Coming on the heels of the rip-roaringly story-compressed No Justice, this relaunch of Justice League promised something new and different. “New and different” apparently meant more staff meetings.

Justice League #1 opens with the Earth in crisis. Six teams of Justice Leaguers are fighting evolved Neanderthals. The day appears won until the Earth’s crust starts breaking up, an effect of the moon’s core. Batman and J’onn J’onzz elect to blow the moon up. Then there is a new threat: a projectile called The Totality is heading for Earth. The League spends the balance of the issue debating whether to destroy it. This debate includes a lengthy retelling of the end of the Martians. Meanwhile, throughout all of this action, Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom have attacked Vandal Savage who was responsible for the Neanderthal attack.

Closer than the writing was to living up to Justice League #1’s dynamic promise is the art. Jim Cheung can draw both spectacular vistas—as his depiction of the Hall of Justice attests—and energetic action sequences like those featuring the Leaguers at the issue’s beginning. Unfortunately he receives limited opportunity to do either. The closest thing to sustained action Cheung gets to depict is the Legion’s attack on Vandal Savage, and even this is handled more through Lex Luthor dialogue than action. With Cheung’s two strengths—action and landscape—largely removed from the issue as a result of Scott Snyder’s script he spends much of the issue forced to cater to his weakness: facial expressions on sedentary characters. While Cheung has no difficulty drawing characters’ faces he doesn’t excel imbuing them with emotion. In the scenes when the League is debating the Totality the Leaguers may as well be cardboard cutouts for all the emoting they do. Meanwhile in the scenes with Vandal Savage and Luthor only Savage seems to be alive. Every other character’s expression—even Joker’s—seems painted on like a wax figure. If there is one saving grace to Cheung’s lack of character expression it’s that Snyder’s writing leaves little subtext to be conveyed.

Justice League #1

Scott Snyder has a reputation as a good writer who is too fond of exposition. Unfortunately Justice League #1 supports that thinking. Comic books are primarily a visual medium, and while there are scenes and even issues that require an abundance of dialogue, images should always remain a primary vehicle for narrative progression. Snyder makes images virtually irrelevant in the main storyline as he spends approximately seven pages on the Leaguers’ Totality discussion. Further, Snyder uses a running third person narration—an uncommon device in modern comics—to comment on the League, J’onzz, and the crisis. The narration, already sounding pompous, breaks a cardinal rule in storytelling: show, don’t tell. All the opinion in the narration would be better conveyed via character action or dialogue; better yet, it could be struck completely and conveyed later since not a word of it advances this issue’s story.

Justice League #1

I enjoyed No Justice quite a lot, and based on its ending I was looking forward to a reinvigorated Justice League. Justice League #1 is an issue of great depth of dialogue. It is an issue with beautiful vistas. It is an issue containing numerous rich ideas. It is not, though, an invigorated issue. By any means. Justice League #1 is boring, and the responsibility for that lies solely at the feet of Scott Snyder. It is an overly wordy tome that doesn’t just distract from the visual component of the comic book medium but stands in the way of it. It’s hard to take seriously a comic book that blows up the moon effectively off panel; that should be a visual feast. It can be said that this first issue is successful in setting the stage for a new story. But the way in which it achieves that success is better suited to long form prose than graphic literature.

Verdict: 2 out of 5 long winded speeches

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Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he's published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.

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