Justice League of America # 1–7 by Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes
If there is an example of the difference between reading something in the single issues and reading the trade in one sitting, this story should be on the reading list. I remember the reviews of almost anger and disbelief when people read this when it came out – it’s just them talking to each for pages and pages! When is there going to be superhero action? – but reading the trade eliminates any such problems. Because this is meant to be read in one sitting, not because of the ‘padding for the trade’ excuse but because it’s a genuine novella. Meltzer is a novelist by trade and it shows; it showed in Identity Crisis (even if I didn’t ultimately enjoy it, I could enjoy the well-constructed murder mystery with a love of DC history and a great handle on the characters within that universe [LINK]) and it’s the same here.
The story is told from a novelist’s approach: there are beautiful character moments for all the major players, as the author tells the story from different perspectives and gets inside their heads, and they feel so completely perfect and defining; the multiple narrative captions show insight and move the story along in emotive and thoughtful manner; there is the use of history to enrich the story (Starro, Grundy, Ivo, Morrow, Amazo), which is both a tribute but also an organic part of the narrative. Also, this is a labour of love – Meltzer loves the notion of assembling a new Justice League of America and what it means as an ideal, what it means to the people in the League and outside it, and you can feel this adoration and admiration for the source material and the concept, and the emotions they bring – the reactions of Dinah and Hal to Roy ‘graduating’ to Red Arrow are powerful and genuine.
The approach balances the author’s fanboy side of ‘bigging up’ the characters he wants in his league and justifying them: Black Lightning, Vixen, Hawkgirl and Red Tornado aren’t the names I would think of for the JLA but Meltzer makes it work within the context of the story. He obviously loves the Tornado – the old comics mean a lot to him, referenced so blatantly here – but he is able to convey that love in an enjoyable story. Yes, there are many pages of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman (or Kal, Diana and Bruce, as they constantly refer to each other; I believe it makes them more genuine and I think it is how they would talk to each other) talking about who should be in the team and why, but it’s charming, and you don’t need to have fights on every page (that was Morrison’s JLA).
Benes does a fantastic job here, although he loves drawing the female bottom more than is healthy for an adult man in a professional career. For example, there is a double page where the Black Canary, in her fishnet stockings remember, is attacking a Tornado robot that is focussed on her backside, specifically by having her moving from right to left on the spread, so your eyes sees her derriere first and forget to look at the right side of the page. Also, he loves to draw female cleavage falling out of costumes (the amazing triple-page fold-out spread of the photo of the new Justice League, with photos behind them of previous teams from covers of their books, is nearly ruined by Benes drawing Vixen’s breasts practically bursting from the skimpy top). To be fair, he also draws men in an equally hyperrealised manner as well (if less lascivious and sexist), and just needs to curb his T&A fetish. He handles the talky scenes and the panels filled with many captions, as well as the action scenes; there is even some nice design, such as the double page of Amazo and Tornado in split panels followed by the 6-grid-panel page where they mirror each other. Importantly for this story, he nails the emotions brilliantly – there are lots of moments that he captures and makes them real, which is tough in comic books. He stepped up and did a great job, making this Justice League look good (and perhaps a little too sexy).
I only had the one qualm in the book – Grundy pulling off Tornado’s arm when he has become human was quite gory for no particular reason, and feels over the top for an all-ages book. However, I can just about forgive this in such a good story – a true love letter to the history of a well-loved superhero team and to one character in particular. Whether or not Meltzer is able to continue writing an ongoing serial is another matter, but he can keep on writing these graphic novellas for a long time.