Why 'Justice League' Is the Best Rebirth Comic So Far
DC Comics made a big change to Justice League, one of their flagship Rebirth titles, at the end of 2017. They announced a complete overhaul of the creative team with Christopher Priest coming on as writer and Pete Woods as artist on the bi-weekly series starring seven of their most famous superheroes. The new run began with Justice League #34 and is currently four issues into its first storyline.
Priest and Woods' influence on Justice League has been transformational. The personalities of classic heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman have changed, the art and storytelling have taken on new qualities, and the stories themselves are radically altered in pacing and tone. Justice League #34 feels as much like a new beginning as Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA #1, and it has made the title the absolute best series in the DC Rebirth line.
Unlike JLA, this version of Justice League doesn't pose its core set of characters as a pantheon of gods. Instead it is emphasizing their humanity as individuals and a team. Superman is still one of the best people you could hope to meet, and Batman is still 10 steps ahead in every plan, but they remain imperfect. Working as a team all of the League members express doubts, offer questions, and approach challenges from different angles. They engage with one another like a real team would, whether it's in the workplace or a combat zone. It's possible to imagine using a Strengths Finder test to explore what each person contributes and how that helps (or hinders) their functioning. The result is a team book that is actually about teamwork.
Priest is also writing for small moments as well that help to humanize every member of the League. One example from the most recent issue is Superman turning to Green Lantern Simon Baz during a brief pause and mentioning they should grab a meal. They're colleagues who don't know each other outside of work, and Superman attempts to rectify that. The moment both reinforces who Superman is (forthright and thoughtful) and who Baz is (based on his starstruck and earnest reaction). There's nothing god-like about these characters beyond their abilities. They feel like real people and offer more of an inspirational story as a result.
Beautiful, Bold Adventures
One of the downsides of a bi-weekly schedule is the need for regular artist changes. Justice League has maintained Woods artwork across its first storyline though, and he has set a high bar for the entire Rebirth line. His layouts pack a lot of information onto each page, offering big moments without requiring a splash. Whether it's Superman hauling away rubble or League members evacuating civilians from a volcano, every scene offers a real sense of scale without slowing the story. Woods style allows him to pack a panel with information, varied settings and background persons bringing cities and other locales to life. His hands have helped make the Justice League feel as the protectors of Earth.
There's also the ability to tell multiple stories on display in Justice League. While the series has engaged with an ongoing plot regarding public trust, each issue has offered at least one self-contained adventure. Swarms from outer space, natural disaster, and alien bounty hunters have made each individual issue a satisfying offering unto itself. Woods makes these smaller adventures matter too. The design elements of the bounty hunter or some truly gruesome action from the alien swarm make these B-plots as vivid or threatening as the stories that some series spend collections of issues tackling. In this Justice League there are no small challenges, and Woods has made that clear.
A Hard Look at Themes
The core story of Justice League so far doesn't deal with a big villain like Despero or global catastrophe like the coming of Mageddon; it's all about beliefs. There's an ongoing conversation, among all of the smaller adventures about what sort of impact the Justice League has on the world simply by existing and doing good work. Questions about toxic fandom, interference with government, and the possible violation of human and Constitutional rights have all been raised. More importantly, Justice League isn't dismissing these issues because they challenge the League's existence.
Priest and his collaborators are digging into them with no clear answers in sight. Members of the League are grappling with these issues very differently. It has evoked Batman's authoritarian streak, while Superman is more prepared to earnestly engage with Congress. While the resolution of these questions has not been provided, if there even is a clear resolution, it's clear that Justice League actually intends to engage with the problems it poses. There seems to be a genuine need for change on behalf of the Justice League and no signs of melodrama or easy solutions to come. That's a clear sign of great storytelling around some meaningful themes.
It's as Big as It Ought to Be
A comparison to Morrison and Porter's JLA is valuable because it is the modern standard not only for Justice League stories, but superhero team stories. It was a comic that read as both big and important. This iteration of Justice League does the same, but in an entirely different fashion.
Where JLA transformed the Justice League into a Greek pantheon, Justice League transforms its characters into the best and brightest seeking to solve global problems together. They have power and intellect, but the challenge rests in how they apply these incredible gifts to problems with no clear solution. The world might not be ending, but it is in no less need of saving. Justice League is a big comic filled with characters, themes, and adventures to match. There hasn't been a superhero team functioning at this level since JLA.
When you take all of these elements: the characters, the artwork, the themes, and how effectively they are all executed together, it's clear that Justice League is a very special comic. It's providing big superhero action in the same moment that it tackles the biggest issues of the genre all while dancing between serious, funny, and thrilling tones. Priest and Woods have crafted the best superhero team comic and best Rebirth comic of today.0comments