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Justice volume one
Jim Krueger, Alex Ross, and Doug Braithwaite
DC Comics / Titan hardcover $19.95 / £12.99

review by Christopher Geary

The Justice League of America is comprised of DC Comics' most powerful and, rather tellingly, most popular superheroes. As a team, the familiar 'greatest heroes' line-up of the JLA are decidedly the counterpart to Marvel's mightiest Avengers, and so it's irresistibly tempting for comics' fans to play the age-old game of finding character-parallels between the rival publishing houses' foremost super-teams (not to mention incessant fantasising over who'd beat who in any closely matched fight of the month/ year/ decade/ century). The JLA has its share of lightweight (i.e. merely mortal) heroes fighting alongside those who are practically invincible, if never quite infallible, granting the team a wide appeal, and permitting any super-team adventure to explore a variety of settings (from interplanetary space, undersea kingdoms, microcosmic worlds, and alternative dimensions, to bright cityscape vistas and dark urban alleyways).

The story here concerns a question that many long-time fans have often pondered. If organisations of super-powered do-gooders just cannot be bothered to try and change their troubled world for the better, instead of merely saving it from one disaster after another, then what good are they all, to humanity, really? Justice is written by Jim Krueger, who openly admits that his inspiration for this comic-book's plot came from Robert McKee, whose masterclass in storytelling insists every great antagonist must believe himself (or herself) to be the hero not a villain. It's a literary notion that's true of many great American novels, is showcased in the very best film noir classics, and it also works perfectly well in other mediums.

With the JLA membership (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and The Flash, etc) under orchestrated attack from a newly-formed cadre of their archenemies (including Lex Luthor, Brainiac, The Riddler, Metallo, Parasite, Bizarro, et al), it's the supposed 'bad guys' who accept the formidable challenge of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and generally making the world a better place for all concerned, though perhaps their goodwill ideals fall a mite short of the laughably laudable 'peace on Earth', and even the least cynical readers might well be asking what's the catch...

For such an epochal, groundbreaking storyline, comics' fans ought to expect that little something extra special, presentation-wise, and while the script itself remains only above average for this kind of material, the visuals here are suitably grand. Alex Ross is rightly celebrated for his extraordinary paintings in award-winning graphic novels like Marvels and Kingdom Come. However, his contribution to the Justice project is somewhat weakened because he's simply painting over the pencils work of British artist Doug Braithwaite and, despite vivid shifts of tone, chaptering via a selection of full-page 'covers' (Ross' solo works), and some wholly impressive two-page splashes, Justice is artistically compromised by having the brilliant Ross' reduced to the lesser role of colourist, albeit for yet another talented artist.

Painting differs from photography in that it captures the essence and not the reality of a thing, scene, person or character. The sterling work of Ross for comics, strives for and grants costumed superheroes a veracity that not even Hollywood's blockbuster movies can achieve. You have only to skim through the colourful portraits and action studies of Kidd and Spear's magnificent Mythology (the 2005 paperback edition is recommended for its 32 additional pages), where fresh interpretations of DC Comics' finest leap and soar off the over-sized book's slick paper, to see for yourself how Ross' stunningly original approach to superhero icons now reigns supreme among comics' artists of the modern age.

Justice loses points for a lack of individualistic clarity in its artistic vision but, quibbles aside, the book remains a striking work of comics' art, with a typically shocking cliff-hanger ending leaving JLA fans gaspingly desperate for answers, and the anticipation of narrative relief from stymied super-team physical ordeals (the fighting sequences have a distinctly violent edge), moral dilemmas (is there any justification for killing an evil opponent?) and personal miseries (emotional distress, tearful grief, helplessness, and gnawing guilt) that's clearly promised to be fulfilled, despite slight doubts that Krueger can meet every fanboy's highest expectations, in Justice volume two.
Justice vol.1

Mythology

MYTHOLOGY: The DC Comics Art Of Alex Ross
by Chip Kidd
and Geoff Spear
Titan paperback
�16.99

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