Monday, July 06, 2009

The Beginning (DC)
Where: Justice League: Cry for Justice #1
When: September 2009 Why: James Robinson
How: Mauro Cascioli

Strength: Ray Palmer 2 (Average)
Intelligence: Ray Palmer 6 (Genius)
Speed: Ryan Choi 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Ryan Choi 3 (Willpower)
Agility: Ray Palmer 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Ray Palmer 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Killer Moth 3 (Explosives)

Math: Atom & Atom
Ranking: Atom [Ray Palmer] (#107)

They're supposed to be the premiere team in modern superhero comics, but for the past few years, the Justice League of America haven't been the headlining collective you would customarily expect. The recent breakdown of the brand began with the internal conflict narrated by Identity Crisis, and although Brad Meltzer returned to the JLA in 2006 to lend his high selling status to a relaunch the series, it was here that the latest reign of mediocrity arguably set-in.

Under Dwayne McDuffie, the series became the subject of notorious internet discussion regarding the writer's disillusionment with his situation under stern editorial direction. The JLA, once fondly regarded as DC's highest selling title, fell secondary to the priorities of other major storylines occurring in the DC Universe, and failed to gain traction as the spotlight fell on secondary characters like; Black Canary, Vixen, Geo-Force, Red Arrow, Black Lightning, and Dr. Light.

Though the potential for defying the expectations of the JLA "big seven" was certainly present in the developing line-up; it's difficult to deny a deconstruction of more popular elements of the brand had impacted negatively on both the quality of reading, and the bouyancy of sales. Something clearly had to be done.

It seems the James Robinson revamp of the Justice League hasn't been without it's own hiccups. Rumors ran abound that the writer was on the verge of leaving DC as his relaunch was shunted out of the regular JLA title, but, as is evidenced by this release, any conflict that might have existed has been resolved. Even if there's some doubt as to the lasting effect of the changes initiated by the mini.

Addressing the issue of character line-up; Robinson is quick to inject marketable classics like Green Lantern and Green Arrow into prominent roles, putting them alongside a returned classic, Atom, and new additions like Captain Marvel.

In rebuilding Robinson appears to be taking a broad view of the League, looking at them more as a touchstone for the DCU, rather than the publisher's all-star series. Heroes and villains seem to be lined up for cameos, while references to events like Final Crisis are providing a fundamental motivation, behind the return of Prometheus as the story's chief villain. A preview of the goals of the series was offered by the Faces of Evil: Prometheus one-shot, which relegated later versions of the Grant Morrison villain to impostor status, reinstating the stature of threat posed by the "Anti-Batman" by eradicating secondary roles and defeat.

As a checklist of goals for reinventing the Justice League for the A-list spotlight, you couldn't fault James Robinson's choices in the slightest. One need only open the first page of the mini-series, however, to begin feeling reservations about the likelihood of success for what is to be a most bizarre series...

James Robinson is a well regarded writer for his work on series like The Golden Age and his prestigious nineties Starman run, which both rekindled interest in the heroes of the forties and helped spark the JSA revival still running today. He's been working in the industry for the best part of twenty years, but frankly, you'd never know it reading the first issue of Justice League: Cry for Justice.

I don't generally enjoy being too harsh here on the Infinite Wars, but it's hard to ignore the maddening awkwardness of a script supposed to return the JLA to a position of prominence. The agonising dialogue begins right away with a series of poorly worded overstatements that make up the opening scene.
You've got to give Robinson some credit for getting right to the point of the high concept behind Cry for Justice, but by issue's end, the intent to present a pro-active JLA is parodied by the book itself as the point is laboured upon repeatedly in a montage of character introductions. The necessity of superheroes declaring their desire for justice would be redundant at the best of times, let alone when four or more characters quite literally blurt the words out in bolded text.

There was a lot of fuss made about Frank Miller's verbose 2005 treatment of Batman in All-Star Batman and Robin. While that was clearly an interpretation that pushed the boundaries of Batman's stern grittiness, it never struck me as being overly insulting to one's intelligence, no matter how outrageous. The dialogue in Cry for Justice, however, reads like the unfiltered internal monologues of an idiot, inspiring some of the same infamous questions levelled by All-Star Batman to a baffled Boy Wonder. I don't know Robinson's style well enough to know if this is gross incompetence, or just a disrespect toward the readers IQ.

It's undeniably cool to see a character like the Ryan Choi Atom intergrated naturally into a fight scene with his predecessor. In a single page action sequence, we're treated to an exciting dash of miniaturized fisticuffs levelled at rogue gunmen and the garishly garbed super-villain, Killer Moth.
The duo disarm and defeat their opponents with relative ease, using only the misproportioned force channelled through dense shrunken fists to deal justice.

I don't especially care for the moustache-stroking dungeon master take on Prometheus that appears to be behind his convenient attack on loved ones of heroes, but for inspiring a classic Atom interrogation, it earns it's keep. Even if it inspires yet more of the same bland dialogue that describes the intent of scenes with all the charm and style of a brick to the face. It's a bit like an amateur production of a play, acknowledging the requirement of scenes like 'Killer Moth's denial of knowledge,' without injecting any life into it through performance.

Again, to Robinson's full credit, he avoids the pitfalls of so many modern first issues. Atom gets the name of his man and in doing so ensures that we know exactly where the objective of the series lies. We're also introduced to a good many of the key players, with a thorough introduction of Congo Bill being a feat worthy of particular note, even if the uniting of the team is an issue or two away.

There's a lot of conceptual talent and enthusiasm behind the pages of Cry for Justice, but if I can be so harsh, I really do wonder how a comic like this ever got published. There's nothing about the book to specifically suggest it's intended for adults, but I certainly never expected a children's story when I picked up the first issue. It speaks to the reader in a manner far more insulting than anything Smilin' Stan or the writers of the fifties and sixties ever gave us. Even if I were a child, I can't imagine not being frustrated with the simplitic overstatements and flat delivery of dialogue completely lacking flair. I don't think superheroes should ever be characterized as simpletons, even for the sake of young readers.

Mauro Cascioli's painted artwork isn't as interrupting as it could've been.
Unlike some others to apply the approach to monthly comics, Cascioli keeps a fluidity to his movement, and a sense of drama that would be admirable under different circumstances. Unfortunately, the seriousness of his artwork only makes the writing that much more difficult to swallow, contrasting astute figures with silly speeches. It feels like there might be an intention to set the story up as one of the must read collections through the art direction, ala; Alex Ross' Justice, but based on the first twenty-two pages, this is something DC should probably keep far from the hands of mainstream readers!

Where James Robinson defies the lowest expectations of superhero comics, and truly shines, is in his post-comic back matter. It's tough to justify the $3.99 price tag on this issue, but the text discussion in the back actually makes me wish Robinson were spending his time and energy blogging, so I could read that regularly. I don't know that it's inspiring enough to warrant paying a dollar, but it's nice to see DC making use of their history, providing panels and covers from Golden Age books that exciting and illuminating.

The return of two-page origin stories is a welcome inclusion, also.
The inclusion of Congo Bill (aka; Congorilla) seems unduly obtuse in the context of the JLA and the length at which his introduction is laboured upon, but it's a great subject for these quick origin shorts. This is the stuff that's made DC such a special brand of comics, and I hope if/when the material finds it's way to the DC website for free consumption, new readers get something out of it.

It's neat seeing post-Final Crisis ideas we discussed on the site earlier in the year actually play out [JL: America, Resistance], but it pains me to say this is one of the worst comics I've read in a very long time. Fingers crossed the situation improves now that the introductions are out of the way, otherwise this might be destined to be the biggest lemon of 2009 -- a stark contrast to the outstanding releases that have typified DC's output!

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 3
Winners: Atom & Atom

Justice League: Cry for Justice is currently available monthly from DC comics. You can pre-order the trade collection now through Amazon, or check out a range of other Justice League stories by visiting the Infinite Wars Online Store. Included are collected editions of almost every issue featured in the Secret Archives, and by using purchase links provided on the site, you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars!

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