Thursday, September 1, 2011

Justice League #1

Okay, so after some technical difficulties, I was able to download Justice League #1. This is the first single issue ongoing comic I have purchased in some time. I've used the DC iPad app to buy arcs worth of issues (Power Girl, Red Robin, Flash: Rebirth), true, but never for a comic I'd have to wait an entire month to find out how it ends.

And after reading Justice League #1, I'm reminded why.

This is not a slam on the content of the comic (scroll down for that, I think), but on the time/value proposition a new comic offers, particularly a new digital comic. I'm honestly not sure it is worth buying new single issue digital comics. Don't get me wrong - the comicXology-powered DC app is great. I like being able to zoom in on a panel and then just swipe from frame to frame. Everything displays clearly.

It's just that, for my 4 bucks, there doesn't feel like a whole lot of meat there. Given the DC app's brief wonkiness when it came to the purchase (buttons not registering taps, then suddenly registering a bunch all at once - I almost bought the comic like 12 times), it took longer to download the comic than to read it. I guess I can accept that, comic issues are supposed to be a brief luxury, but when compared against other brief luxuries in the same price range (ie, a beer), I find something lacking. Maybe it's the fact that it is so easy, so quick (barring app-chokes) to download an issue? Previously, buying comics would be an entire experience - you wander down to your local shop, you browse not only the comic you're interested in, but others as well, you maybe chat with other fans. Even if you spend only 4 bucks, you still get at least 15-20 minutes of distraction, about the amount of time it takes to drink a beer.

I'm actually a big supporter of digital media. I'm a Kindle early adopter and even bought a bunch of them for use in my library. I'll avoid most of the pros and cons here and will instead focus on the amount of time spent with the product. The difference between paying the same price for an eBook and a Real Book and the same price for an eComic and a Real Comic is that the former will still get you a good set three or four hours of enjoyment. To pare down the amount of time experiencing the comic, though, really shines a light on how expensive a hobby it is. And once you have people thinking about money, you have them soon thinking about quality.

Thinking about Justice League #1 now... Man, that must have been a hard comic to write. Seriously, think about it. First of all, it's the opening salvo of a make-or-break proposition for your entire comic line. Even before the first word is written or line drawn, you know the comic will probably be your best selling comic of the past five years. Sure, some of that is speculators and collectors, but hey, if I actually bought it, then that must signal something. Second, because it is the first issue of a brave new world, there's going to be a lot of information to communicate with the reader. Third, because it's a flagship, you need there to be enough action to hook the reader. Fourth, because it's a reboot of familiar characters, unless you are doing something really wacky, people are already going to be familiar with the characters, so could be pre-bored with some of the information you need to deliver per point 2.

I think Justice League #1 succeeded in needing to do what it had to do, but I'm not sure it was a good comic. There was a pretty big disconnect between dialog and action. While "two characters run down the hallway and say expositiony things at each other" is a longtime staple of comics, it's pretty jarring when that hallway is replaced with "jumping from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of a paradaemon." Hallways and corridors have magical properties in comics - they always are just as long as the conversation. Gravity and gunfire? Not so much, especially since we just had a similar chase presented almost wordlessly.

It was neat to see old (Kirby) favorites like parademons, Mother Boxes PINGing, and a literal Darkseid shoutout (If the reboot brings back the New Gods, I'm all for it). I really liked the parademon - especially the way fires seemed to be consuming it from the inside out (mirroring the firepits of Apokolips). The Batman/Green Lantern dialogue, as I mentioned above, was pretty forced. There was a lot of information that needed to be presented to the reader in that exchange. Honestly, I wonder if it would have been better to move that whole "Gotham WHERE I AM FROM is mine and Coast City WHERE YOU ARE BASED is yours" bit, plus the Batman-Swipes-Lantern's-Ring schtick to the ride over to Metropolis later in the comic.

The whole Cyborg thing, though, ungh. That could have been missed. It was a huge downer (Vic's Dad Is Too Busy For Him! Weep For Vic) right in the middle of the action. But since Cyborg is pretty much only appearing in Justice League, I guess they had to put his development/origin somewhere, especially to explain why he's in the League in this iteration.

The art was fine, but since I'm on record as not being a Jim Lee fan (his drawings are too line-y, his costumes too precise for what I think should be big, broad action), that's faint praise. I admit I had to reread the opening a few times just to figure out what the hell Batman was shooting at the helicopters. Hell, it took a few reads just to figure out he was shooting at them in that panel rather than vice versa. Turns out the short answer was "smoke bombs" but the long answer was "not very effective smoke bombs" as they only managed to obscure one out of three choppers and no doubt contributed to their later crash. And why Bats would think smoke would be a great tool to use against vehicles with giant fans on their tops, I dunno.

I expect the rest of the arc in Justice League to be more of the same - doing the required stuff to get the required people together to fight the required battle and form the required League. For me, I wish they had started the series in the present with the League already formed. "Why Did The Justice League Form?" is not a very good question to ask in comics - it formed because its name is on the cover, because it is expected to exist. "How Did It Form?" is a better question, but when we know that it's a given that it did form, it's not a very pressing one. "Why Is The Justice League So Important?" is a whole lot better, one that I hope they get around to answering. When I order a pizza from Dominos, there are a lot of questions that can come up - what's on the pizza, what route does the delivery guy take to get here, when will it show up, etc - but the really important question is why the hell do I keep ordering Dominos when there are so many other pizza shops out there?

The Justice League, like Superman and Batman, is a standard. With a rebooted universe, DC needs to establish why the hell it's not just a standard but the gold standard for the setting. As the first comic of the NuDCU, this is the foundation the entire endeavor is based on. I guess that's why I'm a bit harder than I expected I'd be on the comic - little cracks now can mean huge problems later on.

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