Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
10 March 2007
Story Arcs in One Sitting (#1): Brad Meltzer's Justice League of America
So one of my favorite things to do is grab all of my floppies for a particular series and read the entire story arc in one sitting (often times books "written for the trade" are much more satisfying in this fashion, as opposed to the month-to-month reading originally given to them). So last night, I was in kind of a funk and decided to do this with the recently concluded first arc of Brad Meltzer's new Justice League of America series.


Issue #0 is probably the best issue of the entire arc (if you choose to include it, since the scenes, throughout the arc, involving the Trinity - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman - picks up directly from the final scene of this issue). The reason I enjoy it so much is probably due to the fact that I am secretly a huge fanboy who loves referential continuity. Plus, the artists used for the different scenes in this issue are among some of my favorites - J.H. Williams III, Tony Harris, Rags Morales - and those whose work I have mixed feelings about have submitted some of their most engaging work, even though I could seriously do without the Mike Turner cover (pictured left) and the Ed Benes pages. Eric Wright's flashback panels are some of my favorite in the entire issue, and some of the best work I've seen from him (what can I say - I like it when square jaws look like actual squares). And even Jim Lee's work on this book is far less offensive to me than usual.

The issue for me is that this is as good as the series gets for the next six issues. When I first read issue #0, it filled me with such hope for the series, but was sorely disappointed with the rest of the story.

Aside from my problems with most of Ed Benes' work on this series (he seems to come from the Jim Lee school of "every panel works as a splash page" cartooning) the writing just generally falls short of my expectations, given Meltzer's run on Green Arrow and Identity Crisis (say what you will about IdC - I still stand by the fact that the writing is pretty damn solid). Part of the problem is that Meltzer decides to recycle some of the narrative tricks that he used in Identity Crisis, but to a less effective degree. I like the story being primarily told through the perspective of Red Tornado and Arsenal in the final issue, but I find issue with some of the indulgent monologue writing Meltzer uses. It worked in Identity Crisis because it was such a deeply personal story for all the characters involved, but with in the context of the DCU's big leagues, it seems almost trite.

And that's another issue I have with the book. The impact of the threat that the League is dealing with seems misplaced. I mean Solomon Grundy? Jack Knight was able to take down every Grundy ever created with a conversation about Woody Allen movies. Just because he came back "smart" doesn't mean that he's become any more of a threat than before. It just means that he likes to talk like a typical super villain now. And he likes to talk a lot.

The inclusion of Amazo and Starro, as perfunctory as it was, just came off as a fan service. Sure it ties in nicely with some of the early Justice League stories, which I know Meltzer tried to channel in some aspects, but they act more as cameos than as plot points. I mean why have a Starro be the means of mind control if you're just going to hollow it out and stuff it full of electronics? Why not just build a case for the electronics?

Another issue I have is the scope of the book. I appreciate that Meltzer decided to centralize the conflict to a single villain, but something about the actual threat seems lacking in many ways. Grundy wants to live forever. So what? He stole Red Tornado's android shell. So what? It all makes the intimacy and the personal nature of the story seem contrived in many ways. When Grant Morrison relaunched the League, he had the League facing off against some really massive threats, like alien invasions and such. You're talking about the most powerful super hero team in the entire universe, and you're going to have them fight a single villain? Even when Gardner Fox had the League face off against single villains like Amazo or Starro, it seemed like the threat was really threatening. It was clear that the whole world was at stake. With the Grundy conflict, the reason for the League to be teaming up and fighting seems more like a cheap vendetta.

All of that being said, the book has its moments. For the most part it's a really fun read if you can suspend your cynicism or disbelief. Some times the intimate nature of the narrative works, especially in the case of Red Tornado. The scene in which Kathy describes reading the crossword clues to Red Tornado is particularly moving, but everytime Ed Benes draws her crying, the illustration reads less like sorrow and more like she had just been humiliated by performing some weird sexual act. Even the opening scenes with Hal Jordan and Roy are satisfying because it remains contained within the context of their relationship, which the reader is dully informed of in a tasteful manner.

I also enjoyed picking up on some the things I missed during my initial reading of each issue. Like Hal's hesitance in referring Roy by his codename (Arsenal), to the point that he refers to him as "Red Arrow" simply because he started pronouncing an "R" sound and caught himself.

I also appreciate the contained nature of each issue. It reads really well as single issues, even though they are all part of a larger plot. But this can sometimes lead to problems with Meltzer. It almost seems as if he's torn between presenting each issue as singular entity or as part of a larger story with a beginning, middle, and end. I would even go so far as saying that the individual issues read better separated over a period of time than as a single story lumped together.

One of the other good things, and perhaps my favorite thing, about the single issue nature of story is that Meltzer does a really good job of creating enough anticipation to make you pick up and read the next issue without leaving you impatient to read the next chapter of the story. This is a tricky thing to do, especially with a lot of newer comics. The cliff hanger is a very delicate thing to create, and I think that Meltzer's use of the device in this book is much more tactful than his Identity Crisis books. You have to leave the reader wanting more so that they buy the next issue, but you can't leave them feeling unsatisfied either. In this regard Meltzer has done a fantastic job.

Overall, it's not a bad book. It's pretty classic super hero action fair, even if it feels weak in certain parts. It probably reads worse as a collection than as a series of single issues, but it's still a lot of fun to read on a monthly basis.

If you have any interest in the Justice League, even mildly so, and feel comfortable sparing the cover price, it's definitely a worthwhile read. Of course you could always download it to read, and save yourself the trouble.

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