DC’s big bang starts with a fizzle

DC began their onslaught of 52 new titles with last week’s Justice League #1. DC only released two books last week to ensure that both would receive the maximum amount of attention. Both certainly deserved the spotlight, Flashpoint #5 was the final book of the “old” DC Universe, while Justice League #1 kicks off a new era for the company. From the moment the book and its superstar creative team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee were announced buzz has been building about it. Anticipation was running at a fever pitch, driving pre-orders to a height rarely seen in modern comic books. Even the mainstream media was interested, with stories appearing in various outlets across the nation. DC’s efforts to get people interested seemed to have worked. JL#1 sold out and two additional printings of the issue are in the works now. The only thing they needed to do was put out a great book and their reboot efforts would be off to a rousing start.

Unfortunately, they stumbled at this vital step. JL#1 is far from the groundbreaking, dynamic book designed to hook new readers that we were promised. Instead, it seems like just more of the same. Except for a few lines, this book could have been published in the “old” DCU with no problems. They’ve got a clean slate, an opportunity to update their characters and the world they live in, but there was little of that to be seen here. The sluggish pacing of the story would have fit in perfectly in the previous universe. This unfortunate notion of “writing for the trade,” the awareness that the entire storyline is going to be collected in a larger volume at a later date, continues to hamper the quality of the individual issue. The plot of the issue is woefully thin. The entire issue could be summarized in a mere seven or eight sentences. This is bad enough when you’re writing for existing readers, but it’s completely unacceptable when the story is supposed to be winning over new readers.

That’s not the worst problem, unfortunately. The real flaw with the book is that it’s not particularly enticing to new readers. DC’s main goal in the relaunch was to widen their audience, to reach out to people who don’t usually read comics. This book felt like it was written for the exact same (shrinking) fanbase that has been reading their product for decades now. Perhaps I’m underestimating the mainstream audience, but I have a feeling that many people got to the end of this book and then said “What? That’s it?” If so, I certainly couldn’t blame them for that. Readers only really see two of the League in action, a third is briefly introduced in his civilian identity and another appears in a few panels on the last page. I can understand not wanting to overwhelm new readers by introducing the entire team at once, but these are DC’s big guns. Even new readers are already familiar with at least the general gist of these characters. It seems strange to have a Justice League book without the Justice League in it. Readers are going to be expecting to see the full lineup of heroes they see on the cover. Johns may be setting up a slow-burning story, but there’s no time for that if he’s also trying to entice new readers to jump on board.

This brings me to my final complaint about the book, the price. JL#1 goes for $4, which is a lot to ask for from new readers, especially when that $4 buys you a mere 24 pages of story. Admittedly, there are some bonus features in the additional pages, costume designs, character sketches, layouts and what not, but I sincerely doubt these are of much interest to those new to comics. I think both DC and readers would have been far better served had DC bit the bullet and either dropped the price to $3 or raised the page count. The story certainly could have used the room to expand. Perhaps something would have actually happened in this issue then… As much as DC has riding on the new 52, it seems like it would be a worthwhile investment to take a bit of a hit to the profits to maximize the experience that potential new readers would get out of the issue.

Even with all my complaints, I don’t think that JL#1 is all bad. It’s packed with beautiful art. Jim Lee has ample opportunity to show off exactly why he’s considered one of the best in the business. New readers certainly won’t be disappointed on that aspect of things. I’m just not sure if art alone is enough to win over the casual fans that DC craves. And there is a bit of an intriguing story hook provided by Johns on last page, which may be enough to bring readers back. However, it’s a dangerous gamble to bet on the last page to sell the entire next issue. I’m giving the book one more chance, but if it doesn’t manage to wow me with the second issue, I’m going to stop reading it. This is not a good start for DC’s new initiative, but I’ve got high hopes for this week’s offerings. There’s a full slate of 13 new books coming out this time around, including several that look fairly awesome. Hopefully, DC can recover and pick up the quality going forward or this bold new experiment may be for nothing.

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