Posted by: Graeme McMillan on December 28, 2010
Apropos of nothing, I re-read James Robinson’s run to date on JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA over the weekend – in part because I hadn’t read the latest issue by that point, and wanted to remind myself of what was happening before I did – and, as I did so, I realized two things. Firstly, it’s actually a book that I’ve come to really love, despite itself. And secondly, I can completely understand why that “despite itself” might be such a problem for everyone else.
Let’s get this out of the way first of all: Robinson’s JLA is very, very different from his Justice League: Cry For Justice. It’s not as overwrought or, thankfully, as overwritten, and tonally it’s much lighter and more constructive than the mini that preceded it. In fact, one of the things that I like about it is how much it’s contributed to the DCU, whether it’s a new German superteam (The Elite Guard, who are apparently using repurposed Rocket Red technology) or a new magical society on the dark side of the moon, ruled by the golden age Green Lantern. He’s also brought in STAR Labs for the first time in a long time, it seems like, and uses forgotten or underused characters like Naiad, Josiah Power or Sebastian Faust in a way that feels less like Easter Egg cameos but something more organic, and I really enjoy that – That he makes JLA into a book that’s somehow bigger than the team itself, and more of a book about the DC Universe.
It’s something that spills into the story arcs, which skew towards the epic wherever possible: Something is destroying the multiverse! Something is causing all the people with environmental superpowers to go insane! There’s an ambition to what Robinson’s trying to do, and it really appeals to me. So much so, in fact, that it allows me to overlook the (admittedly, fairly obvious) problems with the book. For one thing, there’s the scattered nature of the plotting – Less so now, thankfully, but the first six issues of Robinson’s run was marked by some amazingly disjointed plots and two complete overhauls to the team’s line-up, one happening midway through the third issue of the new line-up and essentially happening off-panel with little explanation. Presumably, a lot of that was editorially mandated (Even if some of it makes little sense: Cyborg was seemingly written out to go… nowhere?), and a plot that started his run took two issues off before continuing for three issues before disappearing for another six issues.
There’s also the issue of the art. JLA has been a book that’s historically never really worked artistically for me since maybe Adam Hughes’ JLI run way back when (with the exception of Doug Mahnke’s art in the last run), and viewed in that continuum, Mark Bagley’s art is definitely better than Ed Benes’ or Howard Porter: Characters are in proper human proportion, and page layouts are clear and understandable. But – and this may be inking, in part – there’s a generic quality to the faces, and everyone looks about seventeen years old. Which, you know, works great on Ultimate Spider-Man, but not so much here. Things aren’t likely to get better with Bagley’s departure, as Brett Booth – one of the few comic artists whose work I’d honestly classify as ugly – is set to take over as regular penciller. I hope it’ll surprise me, but I’m not holding my breath.
I know that I should classify JLA as a guilty pleasure: I’m well aware that it has large flaws, but there’s something about its spirit and ambition, about its sense of fun, that makes me love it nonetheless. Much like the equally-flawed-yet-addictive X-Men Forever, it’s something that I find myself looking forward to, and wanting more of as soon as I’m finished with each issue. Objectively, I know that it’s probably only Okay, but for whatever reason, I wouldn’t feel right calling it any less than Good.
Coming up next: My 2010 Guilty Non-Pleasure.