[THE NEW 52] Justice League: Origin

And so, it begins. The revamp/reboot/reset/reimagining/retardation of DC’s The New 52 starts here, with the first of its big releases – the brand new JUSTICE LEAGUE.

For those of you unfamiliar with my comic book reading history – or anyone who hasn’t read this review – I’m wary of team books, especially when it comes to the Justice League. My previous experiences with them haven’t been awesome, and more recent stories such as the Blackest Night JSA tie-in have just made me throw up my hands in protest and refuse to give them a glance anymore unless they’re simultaneously recommended to me by nearly a hundred screaming fans – which was not the case with Origin.

I picked this up of my own free will for three reasons:

1. I’m reviewing as many of the New 52 as I can financially get my hands on, and this is kind of the flagship title for it.

2. It’s written by Geoff Johns (of Green Lantern/Flashpoint fame)

3. It’s illustrated by the collaborative duo of Jim Lee and Scott Williams (both of whom are responsible for the orgasm-inducing artwork of Hush, my favourite ever Batman story)

So it sounded good on paper – even if it means having to deal with my least favourite bluetard superhero of all time – but I was still wary given my past Justice League experiences. Thankfully, though, what I got was far, far removed from any of that bull defecation.

The story is told five years before current continuity, at the dawn of the superhero age. From the get-go the action doesn’t let up, starting out with a fugitive Batman being chased by people who look unsettling like the CELL operatives from Crysis 2, only to run into a very cocky and slightly asshole-ish Green Lantern, the two having never met before now. From here the plot follows the assembling gathering of the Justice League heroes, through various contrived circumstances, into the team we know them as today. Plus Cyborg, but I’ll get to him in a moment.

The story seems to be trying to straddle a line between the fresh continuity it’s starting and the old canon it’s maintaining, at least in part. The big baddie is Darkseid, pre-Crisis, and his legion of harpy-esque mechanical crocodile flying things that give al-Qaeda a run for their money in terms of suicide bombers. From the outset every hero’s personality is apparent while not being two-dimensional; Superman is virtuous, if still annoying; Green Lantern is an uncultured asshole, like a mashup of Han Solo and Mal Reynolds; The Flash is a cop who’s best friends with Hal Jerkdon, with a good heart; Wonder Woman is Thor with boobs a mythological fish out of water; Batman is the goddamn Batman; Aquaman has an unsettling relationship with sea life and something of an ego problem. Seeing as Johns is writing the latter ongoing series, it’d be interesting to see whether this ego problem is continued five years on.

I’ve got to say, I enjoyed Origin a lot more than I thought I would. The action is intense and colourful without being overwhelming, the interpersonal moments are still amongst all the clamour and are given full attention when needed, and the threat that poses the world definitely seems like a League-level problem that would warrant the assembling gathering of these disparate heroes into one place. Plus Hal and Barry Allen have this whole goofy Starsky and Hutch relationship going on, which is not only true to original canon but also acts as a really nice bit of character relationship that I really hope still carries over into new canon.

You may have noticed a few references in my review here and there to another superhero team brought together by fate to defend the world, and there’s a reason for that; Justice League: Origin feels a lot like the recent Whedon-penned Avengers movie in terms of content, dialogue and character interaction. Not that that’s a bad thing; the dialogue is quite witty and fitting for each character (though not quite hitting the “Shakespeare in the Park”-level of wordiness that Whedon hit), the epic battle in Metropolis is titanic and super and awesome, and the characters not liking each other but slowly coming to terms with one another (if not going all the way towards being friends) does feel a lot like that film. Granted, there’s not as much focus on character as Whedon gave his heroes, but since it’s only a six-issue story with a lot of characters to include in a short space of pages, it can be forgiven for that.

While the story does, subconsciously or not, draw influence from either Whedon’s Avengers or the popcorn nature of the Marvel films in general, it isn’t particularly cerebral – again, not that that’s a bad thing. It’s not an incredibly deep story, but it has enough character-building moments and awesome teamwork bits to keep it from being a two-dimensional punchfest or having no heart at all. It’s like the difference between Inception and the new Star Trek – they’re both damn good, but the former is deep and intellectual while the latter is fun and bouncy and engaging whilst not being stupid.

Coupled with the Whedon-esque story and dialogue is absolutely magnificent artwork by DC’s dynamic duo of Jim Lee and Scott Williams. Ever since Hush I’ve loved Lee’s drawings, even when he did unfortunately ally himself with Frank Miller’s ill-fated All-Star Batman and Robin title, and the wonderful fleshed-out colours delivered by Williams are what seal the deal for me. The art in Origin was sublime from start to finish, with every character being given good proportions (including former balloon salesperson Wonder Woman, who’s actually got slightly better curves to my mind) and the action sequences not being illustrated as a smooshing of bright colours against an incongruous pallet of black background. Special mention also goes to Darkseid, who looks freaking’ terrifying thanks to the awesome colours, shading and texturing. There’s one particular page towards the middle which is a juxtaposition between Cyborg’s birth and the reveal of Darkseid as the baddie, and the glare that Darkseid gives the reader towards the bottom of the page will ensure many sleepless nights for me in the next  few weeks.

So if I’m speaking so highly of the book, it must mean it’ll garner my first ever perfect score for a title, right? Well, it might’ve done if it weren’t for a young man named Victor Stone.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always associated Cyborg with the angst brigade known as the Teen Titans, which has always made me hesitant to try exploring him as a character. I did enjoy the Titans tie-in for Blackest Night – quite a bit, in fact – and I thought his unlikely position as the sole real superhero in the world of Flashpoint was something nice and a bit different from the norm. So when I cracked open Origin I was looking forward to seeing him join the League, kicking Darkseid ass and dropping one-liners –

Oh, wait, that didn’t happen. He just got blown up, got cyborgy stuff put on him, randomly staggered out to the team halfway through the story, then just kinda tagged along with them until the end.

I found Cyborg to be the most disappointing element of the story; he was given some backstory about being a football prodigy with a distant scientist father who makes Gendo Ikari look loving by comparison, and there was a truly sad moment about a third of the way in when his dad basically says he’ll never go to one of Vic’s games ever. But after all that, he just felt very vestigial; he wasn’t formerly introduced to any of the other heroes, apart from a perfunctory Green Lantern line relating to him not really being a part of their group by coming along anyway, and his only real purpose was to discover the nature behind the odd explodey boxes and finally shut off Darkseid’s approach into Earth. Once he got his machinery he felt very flat, and uninteresting.

While I’m not about to give perfect marks to Johns, Lee and Williams for creating a marvelous popcorn entry into the DC’s new continuity, I’m willing to give them a bit of a pass in regards to Cyborg because it was something of an origin story for him as well, and because I’m hoping that when we return to the present day he’ll be a bit more fleshed out and back to his Titans-self. I know Johns can write better than this for characters other than Hal or Barry, so I’m hoping he’ll give Cyborg the same star treatment he’s apparently giving Aquaman – based on the reviews I’ve heard for the latter, it seems Johns has shifted his primary writing attention away from the Emerald Knight in favour of that freaky fish-guy. But we can look at that when Aquaman: The Trench gets released in August.

Overall, Justice League: Origin is a great jumping-off point for new and old fans, and contains plenty of good moments for the characters you all know and love. Except for Superman – he’s still a tosser, even if his beautifully-illustrated costume does make me want to marry Lee and Williams.

STORY: 4/5

OVERALL: 13/15

BEST QUOTE: “[to Aquaman] Superman might not say a lot, but he can fly and juggle trucks. The Flash is the fastest man alive. Wonder Woman can slice through an army. And Me? I can do anything with this ring. So, really, what can you do that we can’t? [Aquaman uses his power to summon sharks that devour Darkseid’s minions] …Never mind.” – Hal Jordan

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