Justice #2

By Alex Ross, Doug Braithwaite, Jim Krueger, & Klein. Cover by Ross.

Overview

Justice was a 12-issue limited (or maxi) series released in 2005-2007 (published bi-monthly). It was conceived by Ross to be a “Superhuman war. The superhuman war.” Because I haven’t read this since it was first published, I wanted to reexamine this series. To read previous posts, click the link.

Synopsis

The Riddler has hacked into the Batcave computer via the Wayne Industries mainframe, and Batman arrives to retrieve the disk copy Riddler made of the information, which includes the Justice League satellite schematics and the Leaguers’ identities. As he chases Riddler, Batman tells Red Tornado that he will assist in looking for the missing Aquaman once he has the disk.

Elsewhere, Dr. Crane (aka Scarecrow) is curing patients with debilitating illnesses, allowing people “who were told they would never walk again” to “have left their beds and wheelchairs”, and he has done so anonymously.

Batman nearly captures Riddler at a nightclub, but the villain gets away and leaves the detective a clue: a preserved eyeball and ear inside a nesting doll.

Flash comes across the result of Captain Cold’s ice mountain, which has since melted and created an oasis. A witness tells Flash that there were others who helped, one of whom was Poison Ivy, who is elsewhere growing a fruit-bearing plant to help feed the local population. After she has done this, she mentions the “arrival of the Fall,” as tears stream down her face.

Batman traces Riddler to Gotham Cemetery and confronts and captures him there, but not before Riddler nearly straggles himself. He then declares, “What’s … wrong with me?” Riddler is taken to Arkham Asylum, where the Joker demands to be a part of the villains’ plan.

Aquaman awakens to find himself strapped down and unable to break free. It’s then that Brainiac tells him, “I need to understand you, and know you.” Brainiac holds up a bone saw, saying, “…I’m just trying to get inside your head.”

Reaction

The cover is striking. First, you have the white background — a color that is not normally associated with Batman, who is the central figure. Second, there are the countenances of the Justice League, with their heads turned down, perhaps in judgement? Guilt? Martian Manhunter, however, is looking straight at us, though with shaded eyes (given that he appears to be the focus in the next issue, is this Ross’s sly way of indicating that?). What are they hiding? This idea of concealment is accentuated by Riddler’s cloak and the light emanating from within it — it’s a lovely dichotomy: light is usually associated with truth, but he conceals it under a darkness, smiling as he looks upwards — usually a sign of hopefulness — in direct opposition to the Justice Leaguers. Just lovely work.

Speaking of Riddler, I love Ross’s version of him with that long, black overcoat and a green light shining from within it — he is the living embodiment of the riddle he leaves for Batman in the nesting doll! Plus, he now has a “light-based hologram generator” (the source of the light under his coat I suppose) that spewed out question marks with enough candle power to blind Batman in order to escape. Speaking of riddles, much of the issue has Batman pondering what Riddler is telling him, as well as what we “hear” Riddler saying to others. I shall have to remember to look back at this issue as this overall mystery unfolds to see how the enigmatic clues tie into it.

Then there’s the capture scene with Riddler straggling himself. He seems to be under some sort of influence — does this mean the other villains are as well? Cold and Ivy made the oasis, and Crane cured people, yet Brainiac is going to cut open Aquaman’s head to get at his brain (and why? Something to do with Arthur’s telepathy?)? (By the way, this is slyly foreshadowed just two panels before the final page with a chimpanzee’s[?] head on a tray in the background with the top part of its skull having been cut off and showing the brain.) I continue to love the slow build of the mystery and seeing the villains (for the most part) acting out of turn.

Finally, the tears. We see Poison Ivy crying, presumably about the forthcoming end of the world, but the Legion of Doom is trying to save the world — does she not believe their plan will work? Or is it because she knows that no matter what they do, even if successful in preventing the world’s destruction, people will suffer and die…? It potentially raises Ivy to a new level, at least in terms of empathy for other people. Also, in the previous issue we see Superman crying in the vision the villains keep having. Is this to be a recurring motif?

Private Files

This issue features Riddler and Brainiac (of course Bruce wouldn’t have a file on himself…). I love the revelation (at least it was to me) that Riddler’s compulsion  is possibly driven by his father’s demand that he speak the truth regardless of consequence. I think that elevates the character to something more than just a themed rogue for Batman.

Also regarding Ross’s designs, showing Brainiac with those electrodes or nodes or whatever as being embedded in his skin is brilliant. It accentuates the alien quality of the character compared to his Silver Age appearance. The whole mad scientist visual is a bit new and forced to fit the plot, if I’m being honest. And I’m not sure why Bruce (Ross) wants to have Brainiac embody artificial envy, greed, and hatred, as if the artificiality is somehow worse or more than “natural” envy, greed, and hatred?

I forgot to mention that the trade paperback collection I have are missing these Private Files, which is too bad because if you only have the collection, you are missing out on the pencil sketches of these characters by Ross. It makes me want to see Ross do a black and white series with just his pencil work, it’s that good.

Justice #1

Hero Cover

By Alex Ross, Doug Braithwaite, Jim Krueger, & Todd Klein. Cover by Ross.

Villain Cover (not in my collection)

Overview

Justice was a 12-issue limited (or maxi) series (published bi-monthly) whose first issue was released with an October 2005 cover date (published on August 3). It was conceived by Ross to be a “Superhuman war. The superhuman war.” After having completed my look at the 52 weekly series, Justice was the first series I thought of to do in a similar fashion, partly because it was only 12 issues and that I have not read this since it was first published. I recall being a bit frustrated with the series, perhaps because, besides the beautiful art, the package as a whole doesn’t hold up, but I don’t recall specifically why. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll discover a new appreciation for the series. Please join me, won’t you?

For more information about the series, there are two archived interviews with Alex Ross about the conception of the series, his viewpoints about the characters, and the process of making these issues. You can find them here (as long as the Wayback Machine maintains them anyway):

Synopsis

Metropolis is attacked, and Superman does his best to save Lois and others, but he quickly discovers the destruction is engulfing everything. He calls the Justice League, and they tell him similar things are happening all over the world. Eventually, Earth explodes, with a grieving Superman flying out into space. This, it turns out, is just a shared dream that the world’s supervillains are experiencing, repeatedly.

In Atlantis, Aquaman receives a message from some sharks that he intends to investigate. Elsewhere, in an Arabian desert, Captain Cold arrives and creates a mountain of ice. He tells his companion, “Tell everyone. … show them what I did here. … Maybe now I’ll be able to get a decent night’s sleep.” Back in the ocean, Aquaman is attacked by Black Manta who seems able to control the ocean’s creatures. Aquaman is soon rendered unconscious and delivered to the Legion of Doom’s headquarters where Lex Luthor tells Black Manta, “You’re the first to arrive.”

Reaction

Justice came out after the treasury specials Alex Ross and Paul Dini did in 1998-2003, with JLA: Liberty and Justice being the final one. I was excited to read this series, it being the first of a “regular” (bi-monthly) comic book that Ross worked on that featured the “classic” (i.e., late Silver Age or Super Friends) versions of the JLA and their villainous counterparts. I’d say this first issue started out very strong, especially with the harrowing world destruction scene, though the constant “voiceover” by Lex Luthor got to be a bit much. However, it does provide the beginning of an explanation as to why he and his cohorts are (or will be) doing what they are and it’s to save the world when the superheroes cannot! Whether this turns out to be true remains to be seen. I don’t know, because I don’t recall any of the details about this series (it was 17 years ago!).

I particularly enjoyed the four pages between Aquaman and Mera. I would read a series based on this interpretation of the characters. Plus, I love the lighting provided by the  pink jellyfish. Aquaman mounts a giant sea horse, letting us know that we are squarely in the Super Friends mode of the JLA, which I’m ok with.

I found the two-page scene with Captain Cold confusing at first — why does he make that mountain of ice? What does it have to do with what he tells his passenger?

“I want you to tell your people that we’ve had enough, okay? We don’t want to save the world if that only means keeping it the way it was.”

But it does set up an intriguing conflict: if the villains are trying to save the world, at least as they see it, what will the superheroes do?

It was disheartening to see Aquaman go down so quickly (he doesn’t come across as a very intelligent fighter, more reactionary) — it kind of reinforces the criticism that Aquaman is the lame superhero who talks to fish. But they do need to get the plot moving.

The “reveal” of Lex Luthor on the last page is not surprising if you read the narrative boxes throughout the issue, but at least it’s at a page turn in the issue unlike in the collected edition, thus spoiling the reveal.

Having read this issue for the first time in 17 years, I have to say I really liked it. It’s a good setup with some great art. Braithwaite’s layouts are varied and I like the backgrounds and details thrown in. Ross’s figures, inking, and coloring are great too.

The issue ends with some notes on various characters from Bruce Wayne’s private Batcomputer files and a character spotlight by Ross. This issue it’s a file each on Aquaman, Black Manta, and Lex Luthor, with the latter two are black and white pencil sketches that show us different aspects of each. It’s funny, it’s almost like Ross and company want to do a Legion of Doom centric comic book. I wonder how this will play out throughout the series.