On its surface, Justice League of America #1 is a standard first issue. We see introductory vignettes of the cast as Col. Trevor and Director Waller discuss the team they’re assembling: an American-run counterpart to the Justice League, as the latter operates well above reproach in a satellite and doesn’t answer to any government. But the deeper, simmering subtext will lure in even the jaded reader. It’s one of those heavily hyped books that’s blessedly good enough to hold the territory it stakes out in comic book continuity.
Since rebooting its entire story universe over a year ago, DC’s characters have remained largely the same, but the world around them is what feels the freshest. This is a DCU nascent, in which superheroes are still strange, world-changing, and dangerous–much more like the Wildstorm titles that DC absorbed into continuity with that reboot. If the Justice League is DC’s torch, the Justice League of America is the shadowy arm that holds it.
The book opens with a deliciously short teaser: Professor Ivo and a mysterious, gaunt conspirator meet in the streets of London five years ago (though a cufflink may hold a clue to the identity). What they’ve been up to since plays into the present, where Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are trying to murder a fleeing narrator. Until the end of the story, we’re left to wonder about the scene while we watch Waller lay down the lines that will now define Trevor’s world. Both characters come from a world of black ops, and are now dealing with much more public situations. It’s a testament to Johns’s storytelling that his shuttling between times and locales smooths out the plot rather than crinkles it. The mood he sets catches fire when it passes to David Finch.
Finch, as usual, draws dark: heavy shadows, gritty lines, in a crunchy Kubert style that sometimes feels odd on the bright and shiny characters. That makes him an apt hand to draw the story of the Justice League’s off-brand counterpart that’s deeply flawed from its inception (Has his art ever been better than when Martian Manhunter finally appears and looks truly, disturbingly alien? His body language marks him as something that can’t be understood, and distracted by thoughts humans could never parse). The government has assembled a team of outlaws, killers, and aliens that truly feels misfit, and this group will be run by the Justice League’s ubiquitous post-liaison Steve Trevor.
Trevor as a character has never really been an essential part of the Wonder Woman story, so here he’s writer Geoff Johns’s biggest success since the reboot. Previously, he was either useless, which was bad, or inexplicably capable of holding his own in Wonder Woman’s company, which was worse. Johns takes that and posits him as everything you imagine a special forces serviceman to be, and pathetically dwarfed by these superfolks. By making Trevor smart and tough enough to punch his way through a dozen Tom Clancy novels but still a mere mortal, he illustrates the League’s godlike status. Painfully and publicly known as “Wonder Woman’s ex-boy toy,” Trevor is a piece of smoldering wreckage that makes him the perfect choice to take the reins.
Finch’s art pops, burns, sizzles, shakes, and gives the story a perfect feeling of a history reassembled from burned documents and unofficial conversations. Shadows run long in this corner of the DC Universe, and they hold bloody consequences for even the right actions. The low-saturated colors on the Iwo Jima cover tell the story: a giant billowing American flag looks flat, and the eye spills right off it to splatter on the wreckage underfoot.
Brendan McGinley edits the ol’ Man Cave Daily, writes some comic books of his own, and is a columnist at Cracked. You can argue about who’d win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk with him on Twitter @BrendanMcGinley.
Brendan previously interviewed Jasmine Dustin about her rescue organization Models n Mutts, and followed 30 Rock’s Kevin “Dot Com Brown” to ask Is Yoga Manly? But if you’d rather read more comic reviews and previews, have fun.