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Whatever Happened To The DC New Universe? Justice League: Origins

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Back in 2011, DC Comics committed to a bold move in the industry, a complete and total reboot of their entire line of titles. While minor reboots had occurred previously in the form of Crisis events, bring the older characters into a more modern Earth, and allowing them to recon minor mistakes, this was arguably the first time that something this wide scale had been attempted. Not just the events were changing this time, so were the characters, and so was the very foundation of the DC Multiverse.

In 2012, Andy Frogman, Queen Qeeko and Wasusa took up the mission to critique each of the first storyarcs of the DCnU, to find out if they worked to bring in new readers of three demographics. Readers well versed in the DCU, Casual comic book readers, and readers who had never read the DCU. Towards the end Plague Doc replaced Wasusa, and shortly after the group gave up, unable to keep producing, what ended up becoming an article per day project.

However, not willing to give up, Andy Frogman assembled an even bigger team than before, to take on the epic trial!

“Whatever Happened To The DC New Universe?” Will be updated three time a week for the next ten weeks, with an alternating cast of reviewers.

Cast

From left to right we have:

Harmonica Jay as the ever watchful technological hero, Vigil.

Qeeko as the Speedster powered by the God Hermes, Trailblazer.

Silence Dais as the vigilante detective, Crimson Hound.

Cinna At Heart, as the Celtic water nymph, Glau.

Andy Frogman, as the hard-light hologram hero, F.R.O.G.M.A.N.N. (Familiar…)

PlagueDoc as the enigmatic healer, empowered by Hermes, The Plague Doctor (Shocker… I know!)

Funky Panda as the fuzzy, ferocious, powerhouse, The Fighting Panda! (Funky… fighting… eh…)

And Wasusa as the World War 2 Era, steam-tech powered Wasusa! (Yep.)

Not only that but there’s also a comic featuring these characters, that will be posted at the end of each update! So without further ado, welcome to:

Whatever Happened To The DC New Universe!

WHTTDCNU-synopsis

frogmann-rJustice League: Origins

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Jim LeeInks by Scott Lee

We start off in the thick of a chase across Gotham rooftops. Batman is chasing an unknown rag-clad figure, when both are set upon by Gotham City’s Finest in helicopters, with orders to taken the both down and out! As Batman catches up the the figure, he spins him around to reveal a grotesque face with cybernetic parts. The creature quickly get’s the upper hand with a burst of energy, knocking Batman back. Thankfully Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) had also been tracking the creature, as his ring identified it as being of extra terrestrial origin. In the confusion of GL discovering that Batman is actually real, the creature transforms into an insectoid and scurries away. The pair give chase and among more astonishment from GL, when he finds out that Batman has no powers, they discover the creature in a sewer system planting a device into the wall and crying out “For Darkseid!” before self-destructing.
Neither Batman, nor Green Lantern’s ring recognise the technology, but knowing it’s alien, they decide to take it to the only other alien they know of: Superman. GL flies them both to Metropolis, where they pass over a Football field, where Victor Stone, is playing football, and winning the attention of talent scouts and peers alike. The only problem is, his father’s absence.

JusticeLeague_2_TheGroup_010Upon finding Superman, Green Lantern doesn’t take the most tactful approach, and after already fighting a Parademon tonight, Superman sees the Motherbox, and assumes that these two are working with the creatures. At first GL thinks he’s got this fight in the bag, but quickly calls on Barry Allen, the Flash, to come distract Superman, and bail them out, as he’s in way over his head. Batman calms Superman down and explains the situation, they were only looking for information. The four decide to get to shelter and plan on analysing the device, but before they can, the Motherbox bursts open a Boom Tube releasing a horde of Parademons. Simultaneously at S.T.A.R. Labs, Victor turns up to confront his father about his absence at the game, only to have a Motherbox they were analysing erupt and catch Vic in the blast, destroying most of his body in the strange energy that continues to dematerialise his flesh.

Elsewhere, Wonder Woman sees a creature that she believes to be a harpy on the news, and goes out to hunt the monster, upon discovering it though, it’s revealed to be another Parademon, and yet another Boom Tube opens up, spilling Parademons into the city. Wonder Woman faces the fight with sword in hand and a smile on her face. It’s a good battle!

Back at S.T.A.R. Labs, Silas rushes the degrading torso of his son into a room full of special projects of questionable and unknown origin and use, believing that these machines when used in the right combination will save Vic’s life. With an injection of Nanites, Victor is connected to the “Promethian Skin Graft”, and Vic Stone becomes a Cyborg. With his new found abilities running rampant, interfacing with computers and pieces of Apokoliptian technology, Cyborg sees through the Boom Tube network, straight to Darkseid himself! And proceeds to freak out!

jl_04_010 copyFollowing the path of destruction Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and the Flash eventually make it to the docks, where they are met by Wonder Woman, and shortly after Aquaman. The Parademons are circling in the bay, not killing the humans, when a huge tower appears from the ocean and the Parademons fly in. Cyborg dazed and confused and angry at his father, believing that he has been turned into a mechanical monster, flees S.T.A.R. Labs, and encounters a Parademon. The fight causes Cyborg to synch with the Parademon’s Motherbox, which teleports him to the docks also, just in time for Darkseid to arrive!

With the big bad revealed the team go to town, but find most of their attacks ineffective. Darkseid uses his Omega Beams, which home in on The Flash and Superman. While The Flash can outrun them, Superman is hit, and with holes blasted through him, he’s dragged away to Apokolipse by a Parademon. Unable to put up a fight, Darkseid walks through the team, leaving them to regroup. Batman leaves GL in charge and gets himself captured, so he can attempt to save Superman. While he’s doing that, GL rallies the troops and it’s back into the fray. This time with a plan. Darkseid can’t use his eye beams, if he doesn’t have eyes!

On Apokolipse, Batman finds Superman and frees his bonds, encouraging him to keep fighting. Superman from the hub has been able to see Apokolipse wreak devastation on many Earths, and he’s not willing to let Darkseid get away with it. Superman bursts through a Boom Tube, pushing Darkseid backwards into the event horizon of a second Boom Tube. With Darkseid held in position, Cyborg uses his connection to the Motherboxes to shut down the Boom Tube network, with Darkseid trapped inside.

The final sequence shows a writer narrating the completion of a book on the team, as the President honours them on TV, calling them the Worlds Greatest Heroes. The speech is cut short however, as another emergency needs their urgent attention. The Flash steps forward declaring that they have a name for the team…

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…No. Wait, that’s not right. The final panel says it all however, as we see the cover of a book that the writer was narrating, an image of the team fighting Starro, with the title “Justice League”.

WHTTDCNU-art
glau-lFirst off, I’d like it to be known that I adore Jim Lee’s work. From a technical perspective, I think his illustrations are a thing of beauty, and would happily fork out the money to own every one of his publications… if I ever owned enough money to spare doing so. As all/most comic readers would understand, the artwork is integral to the enjoyment of a comic. Their work can make or break even the best made writings. So what can I say about Lee’s work in Justice League #1?

Well, I liked it, obviously. But readers don’t click on a review because they want to know that some semi-anonymous writer ‘liked’ something, so I’ll talk in specifics. Form wise, the characters of Justice League were pretty tight- everything in proportion (by comic standards)? Check. No weird-ass bulges or oddly bendy limbs? Check… for the most part. Indeed, for the most part the human/alien body forms were pretty good.

That said, I feel the need here to go on a little rant about the men’s body typed in JL#1. Humans are all different- we know this. We recognise it as just another fact of life. But Jim Lee (and a multitude of other illustrators out there) has a tendency to draw all his characters with the same freaking body type. You know the drill: dorito shoulders, bulging muscles and thighs that could strangle an enemy without ever having to close their legs… that is, if they were ever so inclined to do something other than punching them in the face, or kicking them or shooting lasers from their eyes or whatever.

My point is that it gives one the sense that Lee just works off the same male body template for all his characters. And yeah, while that does make me want to lick every one of them and claim them as my own, I still felt like it was left wanting. I certainly wouldn’t say no to a bit more noticeable variety stuck in there.

Dynamically, I found there were some issues with the actual structure of the panel layouts. Parts that didn’t quite work with the natural movement of the eyes; speech bubbles that were awkwardly placed and left you reading them before others, but I find that’s often a subjective thing, and they were never big enough of an issue to distract me from the story-telling.

The line art in Justice League is superb. I love the mix between choppy, sketchy lines and clean cross-hatching, as they can bring out the emotive atmosphere of a scene beautifully. That said, I did find times when a certain facial expression or scene that just didn’t work. Overall I didn’t feel like I was having to fight with the scenery to make sense of it all and find the characters, although part of that may be because they’re all so brightly coloured (except for Batman, but Batman is Batman).

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Case in point. Superman’s got a lot of lines going on there because it’s a high-stress and chaotic situation, whilst Victor is pretty clean, in accordance with the calmness of the environment he’s in.

 

frogmann-rThe art in this book is done by Jim Lee, and it’s great. There are very few moments that I feel like the art is in anyway detracting from the the comic. Sometimes, there are moments where something might be drawn a little wonky, but nothing I noticed really brings you out of the book. Over all it’s quite stunning. The sheer amount of detail in all of the characters is a testament to the dedication that Jim Lee had to this book. There has been a lot of criticism about the “Lines of the Lee-pocalypse”, but I think the new costumes have a much greater sense of weight, tone and character, than the flat old variants have. These costumes look like they’re actually made out of something, not just painted on.

This in turn leads to something else that I like about the art, while Jim Lee clearly missed his calling as a Manga artist, where a characters proportions can often be defined by their role, making a lot of characters the exact same shape and build, the lack of over emphasised muscles in the characters, is far more appealing to me than previous versions.

The lineart in this book is very well done, and very dynamic to the situation, in high stress and action moments the lineart is unpolished, and unrefined, with hard, choppy shaded cross-hatching, giving the sense of damage, grittiness, and injury! Then in moments of clarity, and as the book is coming to a close the line art is smooth, bold and very clean, very easily capturing the tone of what we’re seeing. This ties in perfectly with the amazing colour pallet, that manages to catch to appropriate mood, while still maintaining the vibrancy of the multiple characters and their costumes.

This book really is a feast for the eyes, and is some of my favourite art in the new 52.

WHTTDCNU-writing

glau-lPlot wise, I thought Geoff Johns did a mostly decent job of the writing. I do think that Darkseid- who really only turned up in the last third of the trade- should have had a greater focus. His appearance, whilst preceded by his minions (“For Darksied!”) kind of felt like it was… well I don’t want to say out of the blue, because it wasn’t, but it didn’t quite seem necessary. I’d have rather he remained this dark and ominious threat that loomed in the background, setting the trade up for some huge show-down later down the track. His reasons for turning up on Earth weren’t explained terribly well, and it came across to me as Johns saying- hey, look! This guy none of these characters have even heard of before (in the New 52) has suddenly decided to turn up and terrorise Earth with his minions and laser eyes! Why, you ask?

BECAUSE REASONS- BUGGER YOU STOP ASKING ME QUESTIONS!

The same goes for Cyborg saving the day and banishing Darkseid from Earth. As someone who takes great pride in their intricately woven story plots, it left me largely unsatisfied, but I’ve noticed that this is often an issue that comic book writers struggle with. I suppose/hope a lot more is explained in the following issues, but to the uninitiated reader like myself this part of the trade just felt jumpy and clumsily executed.

Even so, I enjoyed the tension Johns built on through the public’s distrust and fear of superheroes. It makes perfect sense (though for sure, it’s not exactly a new concept); why should society just accept the presence of high powered being into the fold? Power- as we are so often taught- corrupts, and how are we supposed to trust a being that answers to no one but their own sense of morality? It’s a scary thought to comprehend and Justice League #1 covers it fairly well.

 

frogmann-rGeoff Johns writing was very good in many parts of this book, but it did suffer in others. Without a doubt the story had a great pace, which never felt like it dragged on, or rushed ahead, the dialogue ranged from poingent to downright hilarious. Comedic timing was spot on. The action was full on. What more do you want from a Justice League origin story?

Where it fell down however was in some of the explanations and motivations of the characters, specifically Darkseid. The fact they used Darkseid in this story at all was probably a bad idea. After all Darkseid is the biggest of the big bads, and here you have a new team have to take him down, and worse, they do. I have a lot to say on Darkseid as a bad choice, but I’ll put that in the Conclusion, but with him in the book, it doesn’t take away anything from the enjoyment of this great story, of the DC heroes getting the crap kicked out of them by a giant of an enemy!

The only aspect of this book that I felt fell flat, was the very end. There didn’t really seem to be an epic struggle, the characters regroup, and this time they get Darkseid, even though they are two members down, and previously couldn’t tickle Darkseid, this time a few minutes later, they are able to not only get close but blind him! It seemed very convenient, and very short. Also assuming that this was five years ago, why hasn’t he tried to attack again since? Cyborg blew up the Motherboxes, it’s not like they can’t make more, and send more Parademons to Earth? The reasoning here really needed to be better expounded upon. Cutting then to an honouring ceremony by the President of America, that’s being narrated over by someone writing a Justice League biography, didn’t really work as well as I think they intended. It might have worked for a TV series, or a movie, but it just felt out of place here. Personally, I think it should have ended with the crowd cheering, and the heroes shaking each others hands, silently agreeing that they’ll keep in touch, just in case.

Not a formal creation of the Justice League, but the first time they came together to fight a potential global level threat. Have the actual official forming of the Justice League, be the NEXT storyarc, five years later, with a much greater roster of heroes to turn up and make the event a big deal.

Overall I’d still say it’s a good story, just a shame about the ending.

WHTTDCNU-characterisation
glau-lWell, we had all of the classical installations of the Justice League in this starting trade, and I think that I should start off by telling you that I am a long time Batman fan. As the only one on the team with no superpowers, I think he’s a bamf, and nothing you say can convince me otherwise.

WITH THAT SAID- I had one biiig problem with the Bats in this trade…

WHY THE HELL DID HE TAKE OF HIS MASK FOR GREEN LANTERN?

Seriously, wth? That was way too soon for him to do. The identity reveal felt completely pointless- everything he talked about to Hal Jordan and his mess of insecurities could still have been said just as effectively without him having to explain his backstory and identity to him, and would have been just as convincing when one knows Batman’s character.

Furthermore, the father-son relationship between Silas and Victor Stone (Cyborg) bored me. It’s been done before; the distant father and the eager son who only wants his father’s approval. On top of that, it becomes predictable and unconvincing when you learn that Silas blames himself for his wife’s death. I feel like in those circumstances; when all that was left of his family was his teen-aged son, he would have been far more supportive of Victor. Supportive to the extent of turning into a helicopter parent, in fact. You know the type, always hovering and clingy; living with the constant fear that the final shred of their family will be torn away from him.

Which is of course another well-used trope, but it would have been more likely than him being distant and completely determined to never watch a single one of Victor’s football games. Then again, kind of difficult to demonstrate in a JL origin story, where much of Cyborg’s powers are completely glossed over anyways.

These two major points aside, I didn’t have much of a problem with the rest of Justice League’s cast. The bromance between the Flash and Green Lantern amused me, as did Lantern’s treatment of Batman (“Batman waits here” Puts Batman in a box – HAHA that’s cute). Superman seemed a little too shoot-first-ask-questions-later for his usual schtik, Aquaman didn’t seem to do much of anything (except for those sharks that one time; that was pretty cool) and Wonder Woman was cool and discovered ice-cream. ‘Nuff said.

 

frogmann-rThis newest incarnation of the Justice League has seen its share of criticisms and praises, and I think that has a lot to do with the characters more than the plot over all. in my personal opinion the characterisation in this book was spectacular! The plot draws each of them to the forefront little by little, allowing the dynamic to develop organically. It doesn’t just throw them all into a boiling pot and expect them to get along under high tension situations. No, they are cocky, arrogant and they argue. However they still see each other with a new light of respect by the end. At this point in the characters individual developments, they have a good reason to think they are the bees knees. Flash is untouchable, Superman is the strongest, Green Lantern has been told his ring can do anything and he’s been trained by Sinestro, the greatest of the Green Lanterns. Even Aquaman has just been crowned King of Atlantis.

It makes sense for them to get proud, because so far they have humbled anyone who has stood before them.

My only criticism with the line up is Cyborg, not because I’m a traditionalist or anything, but I strongly believe that Martian Man hunter should have been on this team. That’s not to say that I dislike Cyborg, I actually think he deserved more, Cyborg’s story during the Apokolips War, should have been it’s own book. Sad to say, while a part of this book focuses on his origins, he has the some of weakest development of them all. I really do think that this was a perfect origin story for the character, he just seemed to go from a lump of pain ridden, glowing tumor, to a superhero in a matter of hours, there wasn’t enough space to adequately explain his powers and abilities, making him come off as walking deus ex machina.

We can rebuild him, stronger, faster… mcguffinier!

The best development in this book has to go to Green Lantern and the Flash, not only is their friendship a big driving force in their personal stories in this book, but they also have some of the best lines and actions. Especially when they are questioning Batman, Green Lantern gob-smacked that he’s just a guy in a bat suit, and The Flash thinking he was a vampire. Priceless!

Wonder Woman was also fun, and I know a lot of people have had their say about her being a sword wielding maniac, but that’s not what I see. I see a warrior. A true hero of legend. Not a hero as determined by the code of the Comic Book Authority circa 1954. A much older code, try circa two thousand BC. She sees a good battle as a glorious thing, there is no reason for her to not revel in the opportunity to take on a worthy horde. If she lives she’ll be a hero of the people, if she dies a warriors death, she will be honoured in the halls of Olympus. That grin as she launches into battle, I don’t see someone who loves killing, I see someone who loves living, a beautiful free spirit.

As for the others, Superman was Superman, though a little more rash. Batman was Batman, maybe a little Batmanier than usual. And Aquaman was absolutely awesome, in every way and completely shut down GL with his epic flying sharks routine! Winning!

WHTTDCNU-conclusion
glau-lAll in all, I enjoyed Justice League #1. The writing was still good, but not fantastic, and it wasn’t overly fast paced to the extent of leaving me in its dust trail, wiping confusedly at my face as I wondered what the hell had just happened (unlike some other comics I’ve read). It was enjoyable to watch all the characters egos compete against each other, without them being obnoxious. I would happily read the next trades.

My highlights of this trade are as follows:

Wonder Woman eating ice-cream. You have no idea how much I want to watch her fight some monsters with an ice-cream cone in hand.

Flash thinking Batman was a Vampire.

Green Lantern underestimating Batman, whilst the Bats is just like- “lol whatevs, look how easy it was to take your ring off you, idiot.” Also, GL didn’t seem to be incredibly smart for someone who’s supposed to be entrusted with the position of defender of the earth:

“What’s he doing?”

“Fusing something to the wall.” Duh, you idiot, Batman thinks to himself, whilst Mr shiny-I-seem-to-glow-from-freaking-everywhere looks on dumbly.

Darkseid’s aliens- when stealing people- remind me of the winged monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. It made it difficult for me to take them seriously (I hope I ruined them for you).

And, Super Seven? Silly Barry, what are you going to do when you get a new member? Lol!

 

frogmann-rSo before we start let’s talk about my issues with Darkseid being the final boss, this ending comes off as trite and anticlimactic, however, throw one of his subordinates in there, like Dessad, and you might be on to something. A short sharp shock would be all that’s needed to get a coward like Dessad running. He would have still proved a real threat because of his powers, and the Parademon army, and wouldn’t have revealed such a mighty villain day one. With Darkseid defeated so easily, there needs to be a hell of an encore to keep the fans interested, and to feel like there is a credible threat in the future. Aside from a Crisis level event, I can’t really think of anything that should have been more challenging than an all out invasion from Apokolips. Can the Royal Flush Gang, or Despero, or even Mongul really compare with a GOD!?

Which I suppose brings me to my final point on this topic, if this were a stand alone series, with no connection to the New 52 or the Multiverse, it’s just a one off story that someone wanted to write, then I would have less issue with Darkseid being the villain. In that context Darkseid would be a great option to show the heroes have to ralley together to form the League. However, with this a part of not just the rest of the universe, but a multiverse too. It just doesn’t track.

If you would indulge me a moment, on Earth 2 they had an established Trinity, with sidekicks, and worlds national armies fighting against Darkseid’s second in command Steppenwolf, and that war raged for years. Yet, you really want me to believe that a completely green, un-trained, un-tested, uncoordinated, Justice League, who can’t get along, cutting their teeth of Darkseid HIMSELF, would win in less than a day!?
Yeah think about that.

Yeah I’ve talked at length about the issues of this book, but over all they were just minor issues. Darkseid is still a good villain, even if he wasn’t used to his full potential. I love the banter between Barry and Hal. The action is great, and the story compelling. I still think this a very enjoyable book, and I have read it multiple times since buying it. There’s not a lot in this first story arc that really detracts from the over all enjoyment of the story, because it is fun, and because the main focus of the book were it’s cast of characters who for the most part were very well written. It’s a story about characters, overcoming their own issues as well as a big bad, and it works!

Despite my incessant bitching about Darkseid, I am still more than a little bit interested in continuing to collect this series. The Justice League have always been a great team to me, and in the grand scheme of things I can forgive these minor issues, because that’s all they really were, minor issues, and would most certainly recommend Justice League: Origins to people trying to get into comic books. It’s a great stepping on point for the New 52, quickly and effectively exposing the new reader to the Dawn of Superheroes in the DCnU.

 

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