New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic books; explaining, reviewing, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium.
After the more confrontational Injustice 2, today’s port of call is something much simpler. Penned by the acclaimed Paul Dini and Alex Ross, this next comic is so far from the norm that there are no superpowered clashes to be found! But does it hold up? Read on to find out.
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Paul Dini & Alex Ross
Art by: Alex Ross
Collects: Superman: Peace on Earth #1, Batman: War on Crime #1, Shazam! Power of Hope #1, Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth #1, JLA: Secret Origins #1 & JLA: Liberty and Justice #1
WHAT’S THE STORY?
Alex Ross is a pretty big deal in the comic book world.
He rose to prominence in 1994 due to his work on the miniseries Marvels, a presentation of the heroes of Marvel Comics from the perspective of an ordinary news photographer, Phil Sheldon. Inspired by other comic creators such as John Romita Sr., Neal Adams, George Perez and Bernie Winston, as well as illustrators and painters such as Andrew Loomis and Norman Rockwell, Ross’ art stands out in the comic book world due to the fact he submits full-on painted pieces in his comics, noted in particular for their realism.
A few years after his big hit at Marvel Comics, Ross made waves in the superhero community once more when he illustrated Kingdom Come – which depicted classic heroes such as Superman coming out of retirement to quell the more dangerous nature of their anti-hero successors – a story which is still touted as one of DC’s greatest to this day.
From there, Ross began developing a Superman story, opting to lean into his unique style to create a prestige piece; something evoking the general design of a children’s story, but with deeper themes and an examination of the Man of Steel. To really differentiate his story, Ross hoped to avoid a lot of the facets of contemporary superhero stories like sidekicks and supervillains, to really focus on the lead character.
Ross was joined by Paul Dini – the animator behind the hit cartoons Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Other Animated Series.
Their plans evolved into a series, with further issues given to Batman,
Captain Marvel Shazam and Wonder Woman, who, in the book, are each credited as being the archetypes of their own unique brands of superhero fiction: science (Superman), mystery (Batman), magic (Shazam) and mythology (Wonder Woman).
To cap it all off, this anthology series was added to with a Justice League story – still depicted in Ross’ unique style, but with some more conventional touches like speech bubbles.
These oversized one-shots began releasing in 1998, and continued through to 2003, before being collected in 2005.
Due to the nature of his work, Ross’ art is now generally reserved for comic book covers, so when you see he’s also doing interior work, you know you’re in for something special.
Founding Members: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman & Martian Manhunter
Base of Operations: Hall of Justice, Washington D.C.
First Appearance: The Brave and the Bold #28 (March 1960)
When faced with a threat from the stars, the Amazonian Wonder Woman, shape-changing Martian Manhunter, speedster Flash, Atlantean King Aquaman and space-cop Green Lantern came together to fight back against their alien foe. Joined by the vigilante Batman and the godlike Superman, the group founded the Justice League, pooling their resources to better protect the Earth. From their satellite ‘Watchtower’ and the ‘Hall of Justice’ in Washington D.C., the team have staved off threats from Earth (like Lex Luthor and the Injustice League), space (such as Darkseid) and even alternate dimensions (such as their doppelgangers the Crime Syndicate). As the most powerful and respected heroes on the planet, these seven have often set the standard for what it means to be a superhero, and have welcomed many others into their ranks, as well as inspiring further Leagues to join their cause. While reality has been changed around them numerous times, some variation of these heroic champions can always be counted on to stand up to injustice and prevail against all odds.
WHAT’S THE PLOT?
In this anthology, the heroes of the Justice League are presented in a new light, tackling problems outside the realm of their usual costumed crusades. Superman attempts to solve the problem of world hunger. Batman focuses on helping the disenfranchised in a small neighbourhood in Gotham. Shazam answers the call to visit a children’s hospital and restore hope to the lives of dying youth. Wonder Woman tries to connect with humanity, while on the hunt for some missing hostages in the Middle East.
And when a virus causes havoc in the Congo, the Justice League step in to find a cure and stop the world from spiralling out of control in the face of a pandemic (timely, I know).
This comic, as mentioned up top, is very different from the usual stories we look at here. There are no supervillains. No sidekicks. Very little in the way of side characters, even. There are no cosmic threats or outlandish schemes.
It’s just superheroes being heroes. Saving lives. Helping people. Whether that be Superman trying to figure out the logistics of solving world hunger, or Shazam trying to brighten up the days of some dying children, it’s the type of superhero story you don’t see often, and one you almost certainly won’t see on the big screen anytime soon.
There’s still conflict, of course, particularly in the Batman segment War on Crime. I mean, fighting crime is pretty much his whole deal, so you can’t expecting him to make it through a comic and not punch someone in the jaw. But the focus isn’t on the fighting, it never is. In Batman’s story, it’s about what happens to people after the crime has been committed. In Wonder Woman’s, it’s about dishing out justice and gaining a better understanding of the people she seeks to represent.
They come into conflict with people brandishing guns or threatening violence, but for the most part, the true conflict comes from the fact that their status and powers don’t necessarily have any effect on the things they’re trying to change. Superman can fly food around the world for those in need, but can he supply enough food for everyone, including countries where their leaders don’t want outside help? Wonder Woman can inspire people and overpowered near any threat, but what happens when her very appearance and beliefs put her at odds with those she’s trying to change?
It’s through these stories that we get to see the DC universe in a new light. A more realistic light. Sure, there are still people who can move mountains and jump tall buildings in a single bound, but they’re facing threats that real people have to deal with, and they’re probably faring just as well as we would for the most part. Shazam can avert a volcanic eruption, but what can he do when faced with meeting a little girl with a terminal illness?
These characters that the heroes interact with in these stories may not be ones we know, but the struggles they face are ones we can understand far more than giant robots or death rays and as such hold real emotional weight. They’re very poignant bits of storytelling, and they have the ability to easily resonate with you, perhaps more than your standard superhero comic.
Some of the stories are better than others, but they all have something that makes them special.
The way they’re presented really adds to that, with Ross’ gloriously beautiful paintings and the unconventional layout of the comic giving every important moment its chance to be enjoyed in full. Not limited by your standard comic panelling, the depiction of these heroes and their more real adventures are allowed to splash across the pages in a way that makes each picture feel real and full of life.
To capture that realism, Ross worked with models adorned in makeshift costumes, and as such their actions and emotions radiate off the page. However, his minor adjustments to their physiques mean these characters, still tied to the real world through the people portraying them, come across as believable titans, their bodies still somewhat excessive, but grounded enough that you could imagine them looking like this if they were real. Like Gods among men. It makes me think of the tagline of a certain 1978 classic…
“You’ll believe a man can fly”
The final story returns the book to it’s more comic-book-y roots. More panelled storytelling, speech bubbles, more characters. As such, some of the art doesn’t seem as detailed as it’s a bit more contained, but the difference in quality is so minuscule that it’s hardly noticeable.
Here, we get to see the various heroes of the Justice League attempting to stop an airborne virus, and I think the way the story plays out, and how weirdly similar some of it is to what’s going on today, is a testament to the writing of Dini and Ross.
It really hammers down what this whole book has been: human stories told through the lens of the superhero. There’s a bit more excitement this time around (still no villains or anything) and action, but at its core, it retains the same focus this series of books has had throughout and highlights a superhero’s most important job, one that often has less focus put on it than punching bad guys… saving lives.
Paul Dini and Alex Ross clearly get these characters, and I think, as long as you’re not desperate for some action, there perhaps is not a comic more perfect to dive into the characters of the Justice League and find out what they’re all about.
And even if you’re already more than familiar, if you’re willing to go on a poignant, laid-back journey, you should definitely give this a read.
If I still did stars for these comic reviews it would probably be a five. Not bad for a book I bought by accident.
Anyway, thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the Justice League? Are they the world’s greatest super-heroes? Let me know in the comments below!
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