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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Random Thoughts On... Geoff Johns' Run on Justice League

For the last few months, I’ve been trying to go through my collection and see if some of it is worth keeping. One series that I think needed a full read-through was Geoff Johns' run on Justice League. I think I started on it back in the summer. It took me a while to finish it all since there were a couple of issues missing. Heck, I even re-read Forever Evil which is something I will talk about soon. Just recently, I finished it off with #50. I wonder why he cut his run short since he didn’t even make it to #52. Maybe he was working on making DC Rebirth #1 an awesome read which it was.

For those who don’t know, John’s run on Justice League basically kicked of DC’s “New 52” phase in August of 2011. The plan was to basically reboot the DC universe (again) and get the heroes looking fresh, new, hip, or something like that. When I heard that Johns was going to be on Justice League, I was more or less sold since he is one of my favorite modern writers. What made it even more interesting was that he would have Jim Lee doing the art. So, all was well in the land of DC, right? Well… sort of, but I’ll get to that later.

Johns would remain on the book until #50 which was released during May of 2016. I guess his departure kind of made the New 52 officially come to an end. Artists came and went with this book, though. Jim Lee was really only around for ten of the 12 issues in the first year. Afterwards, it became a bit of a hodgepodge of cool artists. We had guys like Gene Ha, Carlo’s D’Anna, Tony Daniel, Ivan Reis, Jesus Merino, Doug Mahnke, Francis Manapual, and Jason Fabok doing art chores. There was also a back-up strip in the early issues that showcased a revamped version of Shazam formerly known as Captain Marvel. Gary Frank handled the art duties to all of that. The inkers and colorists were a plenty for the series.
Hey, J'onn! What's... Oh. Crap.

Here’s a rundown of the series:
  • “Origin” was the first arc for the book (#1-6). It was the origin of the Justice League and showed their first team-up against the hordes of Apokalips. It takes place five years in the past.
  • #7 and #8 skipped five years and came to the present day. It’s basically the same heroes from the first arc and not much changed except for Steve Trevor being their liaison. One issue dealt with Steve while the other dealt with Green Arrow trying to join the JL.
  • “The Villain’s Journey” was the second major arc and had Jim Lee’s final issues with the book. #9-12 showed a new villain take on the JL and try to cause strife within the team. It’s also where Superman and Wonder Woman locked lips for the first time.
  • #0 was solely devoted to the Shazam backup.
  • “Secret of the Cheetah” was a small arc that dealt with Cheetah (Wonder Woman’s villain) and the relationship between Clark and Diana.
  • “Throne of Atlantis” (#15-17) was a cool, small crossover with the Aquaman books (#15-16). Basically, Atlantis is somehow attacked by the surface world, so Orm, Arthur’s half-brother and the current king, wages war on the surface world. It gets so tough for the JL that Cyborg, who really got to shine here, called in some new heroes to help.
  • #18-20 shows the JL trying recruit new heroes into the group. Firestorm, Element Woman, and the Atom become members. Those three end up facing a test when Despero invades the JL Satellite. Also, one of them becomes a spy for Amanda Waller’s new Justice League of America, a team created by her and Steve Trevor to watch over the JL.
  • #21 was the conclusion of the Shazam backup.
  • The next arc was “Trinity War” and it was a six-part crossover with all 3 Justice League books: Justice League, Justice League of America, and Justice League Dark. It all revolves around the character, Pandora, and Pandora’s Box. It also had the three Leagues fighting one another or teaming up with one another. All of that ends up concluding with a new enemy coming onto the horizon: The Crime Syndicate from Earth-3.
  • #24-29 are tie-ins to the big crossover event, Forever Evil. To make a long story short, the Leagues are taken off the table, so our Earth’s villains (led by Lex Luthor) have to save the day from the Crime Syndicate. The first few tie-ins centered on the Syndicate and their origins while the rest centered on Cyborg getting a better look and teaming up with the Metal Men.
  • #30-34 is the aftermath of Forever Evil. Lex Luthor has seemingly changed his ways and wants in on the JL. Plus, we end up seeing the Doom Patrol and we get a new bearer of Earth-3’s Power Ring.
  • “The Amazo Virus” goes through #35-39. During an assassination attempt on Lex Luthor’s life, a virus he created to suppress superpowers is unleashed on Metropolis and causes a lot of havoc.
  • #40-50 contains the final arc of Johns’ run: “Darkseid War.” Basically, Darkseid and his hordes return to Earth and he isn’t the only threat that comes. The Anti-Monitor also comes to Earth and those two wage war while the JL is stuck in the middle. All I can say is this: dang, this was long! That’s not even including the one-shot stories on the Leaguers who got changed into gods… yeah, that happened and it was kind of cool.


So, what do I think on the whole run? While it does have some faults at points, I can say that it is a pretty good run of comics. So, sit back as I try to make all of this make some sense. Play some ping-pong or something.


Story
Johns did his best to make the series action-packed and give all the members some moments to shine. The big storylines had a summer blockbuster feel to me. He also tried to include as much of the DCU in it. Not only did we get the JL, we had all sorts of characters from the universe show up in some form of fashion. Even if it was a small nod, that was nice. This also felt like the book that felt like a cornerstone to the DCU at that time. If something major was happening, it was probably happening here first. I mean, you had the beginnings of the JL as well as DC’s major crossover event (Forever Evil, I don’t think Convergence would really count) started here. Justice League of America/Justice League United spun out of it as well. It seemed like he touched all the facets of the DCU through this League. Some of it even played into current events with Rebirth.

I felt like the series really started to get better after its first year. The stories felt better and even the JL felt better written. The JL also faced the biggest villains like Darkseid and the Crime Syndicate to small ones like The Key and other smaller criminals. There was also a nice continuing story going through the book. In the earlier issues, stuff involving the other Justice League team, Darkseid, and Earth-3 characters would get hinted at until stuff really went down. There were some nice funny moments in the book. Heck, even Batman (stoic and serious as ever) had some levity to him at points.
 

League Members
While it has a couple of changes, it’s pretty much the standard JL team. We have the big hitters, some of the originals, and Cyborg. They all had moments to shine in one way or another. While some stuff wasn’t all perfect (I’ll get to “Loudmouth Hal” later), I liked all of the members. I’ve said this before, but while I like that Cyborg made it to the big leagues, I still wish it wasn’t like this. I still wanted his time with the Teen Titans to count but all of that got thrown out. Plus, the true alien of the team, the Martian Manhunter, was missing from the roster. At least we got to see him down the line but not as a member.
I know that's right, Vic!

There weren’t many changes to the team, but we did get some new members down the line like Firestorm, Lex Luthor, Element Woman, Jessica Cruz (Power Ring), and the Atom (Rhonda Pineda) Even though Vic took J’onn’s place on the initial team, I do have to say that he was treated pretty well. Not many of the Leaguers received much development but he was one of the ones that did. Others like Jessica Cruz (new Power Ring/Green Lantern), Shazam (even with his back-ups), and Lex Luthor got to grow pretty well. Then, there was Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship. Johns handled that well too even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of it.

As for the backups, I liked them. Most of them added a little more to the main story that didn’t get centered on. They also gave a taste of things to come in later issues and other League-related titles. Then, we got the new Shazam origin. I do have to say that it was pretty good. I’m not a big fan of the Big Red Cheese, but he was revamped nicely for this new universe. Yes, it was pretty different than what came before since Billy started out as an annoying brat. Luckily, he didn’t stay that way.


Art
If there is one thing I can say that was consistently good with the series, it’s the art. The art team was made up of some of the best DC has to offer. While the quality may have dipped here and there, the artwork was one thing that made the book feel big and action-packed. The battles were big and destructive. All of the Leaguers looked good for the most part. Lee redesigned all of the looks for the main seven and they did work. I will say that Cyborg’s first look from Lee wasn’t my favorite. I was glad when Ivan Reis came and trimmed down that look to something sleek and cooler.

Lee’s work was good for the most part but I have to say he wasn’t my favorite artist on the title. That would have to be split between Ivan Reis and Jason Fabok. Both of those guys just brought it when it got big. Ivan Reis is one of my favorite modern artists, so I knew I’d like his stuff immediately. Fabok was one that was a surprise since I hadn’t seen much of his work before. He especially brought the goodness with “Darkseid War” and “The Amazo Virus.”
... Cool.


Problems
While I do like the series, there were some things that didn’t work as much. The first year of the title wasn’t that good. It was far from bad but there were some problems. The first arc wasn’t really good. I actually talked about it here a couple of years ago and re-reading it was a bit of a chore.  One problem I had with the early issue had was with how most of the JL was characterized. Mostly, it was Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern. They just seemed off and some of that even carried into the present day which was pretty weird. I will say that Johns did get them and the others down better as the series went on. Heck, when Hal returned in "Darkseid War," it was actually a welcomed surprise since he wasn’t being an overall idiot.
Can Hal ever shut up? Also, why is Superman floating for no reason? It has to be a Jim Lee thing.

There’s also the fact that some story arcs could go too long. The first arc, “Origin,” definitely felt like that. I didn’t get why it had to be six issues. I also have a little something to say about “Darkseid War” which took close to a year to complete. Yeah, that thing took the duration of “DC You” to complete and I’m still wondering how it fits with what was going on at that time. At least that arc has an excuse to be so long since so much stuff happens in it. Plus, Johns probably wanted to bring an end to all the stuff he started in it. Lastly, the stories would sometimes be a little weak. They would be strong throughout the run, but there were moments where the story and dialogue didn’t always work.

……………………………………………………………


In the end, this was a good run of Justice League even though it had a couple of rough patches along the way. I can’t say that it’s the best run for the League since I haven’t read more. Still, I think it should be checked out in the back issues or the trades. Maybe you’ll see what I get from it. Anyway, that’s all I got for now. I’ve got some more posts coming after a time away. Until then, Peace, God Bless, and just know to be prepared when joining the League.

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