By Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Doug Braithwaite & Todd Klein (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3526-0 (TPB)

Once upon a time, comics were instantly accessible, kid-friendly and dealt with pure universal fundamentals like Goodies vs Baddies. All us old, ultra-sophisticated advocates of the mature global art form secretly miss them terribly…

So much so, that in the early days of the 21st century Alex Ross and his frequent collaborators Jim Krueger and Doug Braithwaite celebrated their personal wonder years with this epic clash that originally sold as a 12-issue miniseries before jumping to a number of classy collected editions. This particular re-release is available in trade paperback and digital editions.

Ross and Krueger co-wrote the saga – a tribute to the traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights sagas of childhood, both in 1970s DC Comics and also the animated Super-Friends and Challenge of the Super-Friends TV shows – after which Braithwaite pencilled the amazing action before Ross finished the pages in his painterly manner. Letterer Todd Klein added sense to the proceedings in his usual efficient manner.

Set outside of regular DC continuity (whatever that means, in these multimedia, multi-platform, multiple Earths modern days) this tale begins with widespread dreams of Nuclear Armageddon and the ultimate failure of Earth’s superheroes to save the world. These nightmares similarly plague many of the planet’s vilest super-villains, until – after overcoming their natural distrust of each other – they at last unite under Lex Luthor to finally overcome their arch-enemies once-and-for-all.

Not only do the massed malefactors hunt down and deal with Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League, but they thereafter also instigate a public charm offensive. The united super creeps undertake and achieve real change: improving the world in proactive interventionist ways the heroes never have.

As deserts are made to bloom, the crippled cured and the hungry masses are finally fed, humanity is blithely oblivious to the fact that their erstwhile champions are being brutally tortured and murdered…

With the superheroes compromised and defeated, lesser valiant lights of the DC Universe come into play whilst the triumphant villains divvy up their cunningly won spoils. However, as the forces of decency begin their fight back, it becomes increasingly clear that Luthor and alien computer intelligence Brainiac have their own agendas: ones that don’t include their erstwhile allies and pawns.

More significantly, the supremely insane Joker is on the loose again. He’s quite unhappy about being excluded from the initial alliance of villains…

The Big Finale is a feast of chaos and carnage, grand spectacle and bombastic set pieces as war between the Super Powers of the DCU exposes the dastardly master-plan of Lex and Brainiac even as the resurgent heroes – each clad in personalised Battle Armour (Gotta Collect ‘em All!) – go into concerted action to save the world… not just from the depredations of the desperate villains, but also the imminent threat of nuclear Armageddon.

Visually astounding and enthralling, in story-terms this overly complex and convoluted tale falls far short of the halcyon material it references, possibly because the target audience is assumed to be too mature for the clear-cut simplicity of those child-friendly days and tales. There’s also a little too much of the prospective “merch” about the whole affair, for my liking: surely it can’t just be all about Toys, Action Figures and Collectables, these days?

I understand that it’s a tough commercial world and that many fans love toys, gadgets, statues and other extras that are now part-and-parcel of comics publishing. I just worry that when peripherals begin to dictate content, you have a core product that’s no longer able to sustain itself.

Although beautiful and pictorially compelling, Justice could have greatly benefited from a little of the clear, clean plot-driven simplicity of those long-ago stories. The saga comes so close to being perfect comics fare, but founders at the last, with its superbly gifted creators spending too much on toy-factory fripperies, yet failing to make the kind of mind-blowing magic memories which inspired them to get into the business in the first place…
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