By Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn & Barry Kitson (DC Comics)
If the chop-and-change continuity gymnastics DC have undergone in recent years gives you a headache, but you still love reading excellent super-hero team stories, you could just take my word that this is one of the best of that breed and move on to the next review. If you’re okay with the confusion or still need convincing, though, read on.
DC published the Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics in the 1940s. They were the first super-hero team in comics. In 1960 the publisher revived the concept as the Justice League of America, eventually reintroducing their JSA ‘ancestors’ as the heroes of an alternative Earth. By 1985 the continuity was overcrowded with heroic multiples which the editorial Powers-That-Be deemed too confusing, and a deterrent to new readers, resulting in the maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, the events of which led to a winnowing and restructuring of the DC universe.
With all the best bits from stories past (for which one could read ‘least charming or daft’) having now occurred on one Earth, and with many major heroes re-launched (Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash etc.), one of the newest curses to readers – and writers – was keeping definitive track of what was now DC ‘History’ and what had never actually happened. Thus the twelve issue maxi-series JLA: Year One presented the absolute, definitive, real story of the Justice League, the World’s Greatest Superheroes.
Of course since Infinite Crisis and the subsequent publishing extravaganzas such as 52 and Countdown it’s not strictly true anymore. Still. Again…
None of which impacts upon the superb quality of the tale told. Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn and artist Barry Kitson produced a superb version of the team’s earliest days. It’s set “ten years ago”, when an alien invasion initially brings Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary (daughter of the JSA heroine), Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter together to save the Earth from colonisation.
The main action occurs after that victory, as the heroes – novices all – decide to band together as a team. The story of their bonding and feuding, under the extended threat of rogue geneticists who plan to remake the planet, the mystery of who is actually bankrolling their team, as well as the usual everyday threats in a superhero’s life, is both enchanting and gripping.
In-the-know fans will delight at the clever incorporation of classic comics moments, in-jokes and guest-shots from beloved contemporaneous heroes and villains such as the Blackhawks, Doom Patrol, original Blue Beetle and such, but the creators never forget their new audience and nothing is unclear for first-timers to the concept.
The finale is a fanboy’s action-packed dream as every hero on Earth unites to combat an all-out, alien invasion when their first foes return and even succeed in taking our planet! Of course the JLA save the day again in glorious style. The brilliantly addictive plot, superb dialogue and wonderfully underplayed art suck the reader into an enthralling climax that makes you proud to be human – or at least terrestrially based.
When it’s done right there’s nothing wrong with being made – and allowed to be feel – ten years old again.
© 1998 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.