Justice League #1 classic comic review – the Giffen and DeMatteis cut

February 16, 2021
Louie Fecou 0
Comics
5

Summary

If you have never picked this title up, it’s a must-read, and although nostalgia may be clouding my review, there is no doubt that this first issue is a masterclass of comic book storytelling, and there’s a lot that can be learned from this.

5

Summary

If you have never picked this title up, it’s a must-read, and although nostalgia may be clouding my review, there is no doubt that this first issue is a masterclass of comic book storytelling, and there’s a lot that can be learned from this.

This classic comic review of Justice League #1 contains some minor spoilers.


In 1981, the Justice League was reborn.

After the sales on the title had started to dip, with a misstep that saw the big DC hitters not really involved with the group, a new group of young Turks took their place and the Detroit years of the JLA left readers puzzled.

After a devastating story arc left the group in disarray, the relaunch was imminent, and the creative team of Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, and Terry Austin would take the book in a stunningly fresh new direction, mixing sitcom, soap opera, and superheroes into a title the likes of which the great reading public had never seen before. But was the first issue really any good?

Well, for those of you with short attention spans the answer is yes, it was incredible, and here’s why I thought that then, and why I still think it now. The first image on the cover is almost as iconic as some of the characters standing in it. The 10 main cast members are standing not in action poses, but instead are staring upwards at the reader, almost antagonistically, with a single speech bubble from Guy Gardner that says “Wanna make something of it?” This cover image would be reused at every opportunity, and the tone of the book was already transmitted to the reader before they had even opened the book.

The title “Born Again” would make sure everyone knew that this was a re-launch, and the splash page again would subvert expectations, with Gardner again sitting in the middle distance slouched in a chair with his foot on the table.

The cast is introduced one at a time, Black Canary arrives in the teleporter, Mister Miracle and Oberon arrive followed by Captain Marvel, Martian Manhunter, and Blue Beetle. The crisp artwork is reflected by the crisp dialogue. If you think snappy character interaction is a millennial trope, then you’re wrong. Justice League was exchanging quips and one-liners way before then, and it was genuinely funny, interesting, and more importantly, in character.

The new League is beset by camera crews and the press, and hiding in the shadows is Maxwell Lord, the business mogul behind the League, and not a wishing stone in sight.

It’s not long before Guy has managed to upset his fellow members, Black Canary is shouting in his face, Oberon is literally “swept” out of his way before Jonn steps in and gets the Gardner treatment too. When Doctor Fate and Batman arrive, the fight is getting out of hand, but it only takes two words from Batman to sort the rogue Green Lantern out, in a brilliant piece of characterization that would follow through in subsequent issues.

A terrorist attack forms the initial threat for the team, but the big reveal is that Lord himself seems to be the puppet master behind the whole premise, and by the end of the issue there are mysteries and plot threads that readers could not wait to see resolved.

As a first issue, this is a textbook case of how to do it properly.

The collaboration of art, plot, and dialogue was a perfect marriage. The tight control of Maguire’s pencils with Austin’s linework makes every panel of this book something to study. The facial expressions made these heroes look about as human as they possibly could, with simple, easy, clean panels that let the story flow like a well-directed film.

The characters and their relationships would grow and evolve naturally, and the arcs would veer from whimsy to dark drama at the flip of a coin.

If you have never picked Justice League #1 up, it’s a must-read, and although nostalgia may be clouding my review, there is no doubt that this first issue is a masterclass of comic book storytelling, and there’s a lot that can be learned from this.

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