SLUGFEST: Justice League #2

A comic review article by: Dave Wallace, Ray Tate

Batman fights Superman! Flash enters the scene! Green Lantern says something dumb! Vic Stone! You paid $4 for this!

Dave Wallace:
Ray Tate:

Dave Wallace:

Away from the hype and raised expectations that accompanied the release of the first issue of Justice League, it's now a little easier to see what the book is trying to accomplish. This second issue makes it even clearer than the first: Geoff Johns' story isn't about setting up the foundations of the new DC Universe in its entirety, or explaining how the new continuity occupied by the book is different to the old one. Instead, it's about telling a character-oriented story that introduces all of DC's big players in their most recognisable and primal forms, whilst also rooting the formation of the Justice League in a fairly conventional and accessible tale based around one of the company's classic cosmic supervillains. And on this level, it's doing reasonably well.

Johns' handling of the book's gradually expanding cast of characters is pretty deft, with the Flash getting a reasonably succinct introduction here that nonetheless establishes all of the essential elements of the character. Batman is also fleshed out a little further in this issue, with an indication not only of his strengths (the function that he claims he serves for the nascent team is difficult to argue with) but also of his weaknesses (as demonstrated by Johns' admirable refusal to give Bruce the upper hand in his fight with Superman).

That said, there are still some characters that feel loosely sketched: I still don't really feel that I have any reason to care about the soon-to-become-Cyborg (no, having a dad who doesn't come to see you play football doesn't count), and Darkseid is still being kept vague and mysterious at this point (although the closing pages of the issue suggest this may change soon). However, viewing this second chapter in the context of what will presumably be a five- or six-issue arc, there's still plenty of time to flesh them out.

If I have any real complaint about the writing, it's that there appears to be a conscious effort on Johns' part to add as much dialogue as possible to the more character-based sequences. I was reminded of the work of Brian Michael Bendis by Johns' talky, over-written scenes which somehow still manage to say very little of value.

If these sequences served some important function for the characterization or the plot, it would be more forgiveable, but despite a couple of amusing touches (such as the significance of Superman's hideout in the context of DC's recent push on digital comics) the book never demonstrates ambitions beyond fairly basic characterisation and simple, slow, steady plotting.

Luckily, the book has the art of Jim Lee to liven things up a little. The man has an undeniable talent for attention-grabbing, flashy and superficially attractive images, but it's pleasing to see that he can also use these skills in conjunction with his talents for storytelling, too.

A good example is the issue's title page: a double splashpage that gives us a highly-detailed and dynamically-posed image of the showdown between Superman and Batman, whilst also subtly filling in the gap between last issue's cliffhanger and the point at which we pick up the fight here by giving us several visual indicators that Batman has exhausted his arsenal against the Kryptonian without making a dent:

There are also some satisfying smaller moments later in the story, with a surprisingly high panel count in places that helps the artist to vary the rhythms of what could have otherwise become a repetitive series of hero-vs-hero encounters.

For instance, I couldn't help but smile at the three-panel sequence in which the Flash toys with Superman by darting around him before pulling his cape over his head -- a sequence that also shows that, when he wants to, Johns is able to use dialogue sparingly to emphasise the brevity of the moment being captured by the art:

And in other places, the writing, art and lettering come together perfectly to create some less conventional layouts that again add a little variety and interest to an otherwise very straightforward story. I was rather struck by this unassuming sequence, in which the placing of the word balloons combines with the layout of the art to lead your eye clockwise around a cluster of panels, rather than progressing in a simple left-to-right or top-to-bottom order:

Having said that, these moments only serve to add a little extra polish to what is at its heart a competently-told if fairly unremarkable story. Nonetheless, it's an issue that manages to advance the tale of the formation of the Justice League and (re)introduce us to some old friends -- and given that it doesn't seem to aim any higher than that, I guess it qualifies as a success.

Along with the main story, the issue features a few pages of extras -- which, frankly, don't really help to justify a $3.99 price tag for a 23-page story. However, I guess they might be of interest to DC enthusiasts looking for pointers as to how the company's new universe hangs together.

As well as a few pages of "transcript" of an interview with Steve Trevor that allude to various goings-on in the DCU (including what I believe is the first mention of the relaunched universe's Captain Marvel), there are also a couple of "sketchbook" pages by Cully Hamner that are actually more like model sheets. Interestingly, these show that Lee isn't following his own designs that closely: check out the back of Batman's utility belt, the back of his boots, and the seams up the back of his legs in Hamner's image, and compare them to the title splashpage posted earlier:

I usually quite enjoy these kinds of extras in collected editions, but I tend to skip over them in single issues -- and to be honest, if I'm paying over-the-odds for a comic, I'd rather see these six pages used to provide a longer story rather than essentially disposable backmatter.

A journalist and sometime comics reviewer, Dave Wallace was raised on a traditional European diet of Beano comics, Asterix collections and Tintin books before growing up and discovering that sequential art could -- occasionally -- be even better than that. He has an unashamed soft spot for time-travel stories, Spider-Man, and anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and has been known to spend far too much on luxurious hardcover editions of his favorite books when it's something he really likes. Maybe one day he'll get around to writing down his own stories that have been knocking around his head for a while now.

Ray Tate:

Batman has always beaten Superman in the comics and on film. It started in an issue of World's Finest when an actor pretended to be two different aliens and instigated a war between the two heroes; later involving Batgirl and Supergirl on opposite teams. This pattern of human ingenuity triumphing over alien power continued intermittently but is most memorable in The Dark Knight Returns and The New Batman/Superman Adventures from Bruce Timm and Company. Superman regains his badass, undefeatable reputation in this week's issue of Justice League .

In the past, Batman had two great advantages over Superman. Superman was a known quantity. Batman had studied Superman and formulated effective strategies to use against him. Batman's best defeat of Superman occurred in Man of Steel. In that instance, Batman thwarts Superman through psychology. He doesn't raise a finger let alone a fist to stop the Big Red S in his tracks. Batman places a bomb on an innocent person (himself) to preclude his capture. Together he and Superman stop Magpie and establish a truce that will evolve into a legendary friendship.

The differences in the New 52 are vast. Superman is considered as much of a vigilante as Batman. That new classification generates consequences. Superman has no reason to serve the wants of the police and therefore no need to hunt for Bat. Because Batman never believed he would be at odds with Superman, he never prepared stratagems for a hypothetical contest. In any case, there's scant data for Batman to absorb. Most fatally for Batman, kryptonite doesn't exist. It's that little piece of home that gave Batman the advantage for years.

Writer Geoff Johns considers the implications of the new 52, and Superman becomes an unstoppable force. Green Lantern, Batman and the Flash fail to so much as scratch the revamped Man of Steel's invulnerable hide. When you think about it, this is a historically significant event. For the first time since the publication of World's Finest, Superman wins, hands down, and it's about time.

Now, of course, Superman didn't ask for any of this. The Green Lantern, expertly presented as an idiot with a ring, launched an unprovoked attack last issue. Superman as he states, "does not like to be attacked." Who does? The Flash enters the fray out of a budding friendship with Green Lantern. This is the first time that a team-up between heroes is mentioned in the new DCU. They partnered to deal with Grodd, now, with the exception of Mordru and Morgaine le Fey, the first super-powered villain established in the new DCU.

The Flash lasts longer than Green Lantern and Batman, but Superman disposes of him pretty quickly, and again, it's an example of how different things are now.

Suped Up

Perhaps, Superman's constant defeat by Batman hurt the character. Here, he seems effective, and because he is the innocent victim of the assaults. You root for him. Batman in turn finally becomes what he always should have been: the voice of reason. He ends the battle before it can grow into something tragic. So, begins the foundation of "The World's Greatest Superheroes."

I'm imagining Kevin Conroy or Michael Keaton, how about you?

Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.

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