Shiny Shelf

Justice League of America #1

By Mark Clapham on 30 August 2006

It’s that time of decade again – DC’s premier super team needs a conceptual spring clean and relaunch. So, after a decade of the book being called simply ‘JLA’, we’re back with ‘Justice League of America’, a new first issue and a high profile creative team in the form of novelist Brad Meltzer (best known in comics for controversial mini-series ‘Identity Crisis’) and penciller Ed Benes.

There are many approaches to the JLA – a few big hitters, a large cast of smaller heroes, all-out action, cosmic plots, humour… they’ve all been done. When Grant Morrison launched the previous incarnation of the book, the emphasis was very much on iconic heroes and big ideas – ‘JLA’ was the book where Superman fought angels, for example.

Meltzer takes an approach familiar from ‘Identity Crisis’, freely mixing in the big icons with quirkier, lesser known characters that are obviously personal favourites, and whom Meltzer can more freely play around with. So we have Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in charge of the League, and an indication that there’ll be both a Green Lantern and a Flash on the team, but we also have Red Tornado, Black Lightning and Vixen.

Surprisingly, it’s in its use the Red Tornado that this issue scores most highly – the Tornado is a sympathetic outsider figure (fulfilling the role in the League most often taken by the Martian Manhunter), but he’s also a potentially dangerous weapon. In a neat commentary on the odd laws of superhero comics, he’s currently dead but all the other heroes are expecting an imminent resurrection. It’s the nature of this latest resurrection that provides for both a convincing emotional story, and a potentially huge threat for the new League to face. By the end of the issue there’s a touching family reunion, but also the certainty that there’s going to be a lot of hurt, both physical and emotional, to be shared around before this story arc is over.

As open to cynicism as something like ‘Identity Crisis’ may have seemed in synopsis – a supposed ‘everything changes’ superhero murder mystery where both the victim and killer are incredibly minor DCU players – reading the damn thing was still exciting, tense and even quite emotional, thanks to Meltzer’s thriller-writer sensibility and the integrity with which he writes these characters. This incarnation of ‘Justice League of America’ is the same, investing all its characters, no matter how unlikely to be featured on a lunchbox or in a movie, with real life and sympathy.

Benes, who has been up and coming for a while, hits a new high with his pencils, which are well served by Sandra Hope’s precise inking. This could be the book that rockets Benes to the top rank of comic book artists.

The old incarnation of ‘JLA’ was floundering in its last years, and deserved putting out of its misery. Now it’s dead, long live this relaunch – until the next one is needed, anyway.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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