Monday, February 25, 2013

Justice League of America and Vibe First Issues

When I read the new first issues of Justice League of America and Justice League of America's Vibe from DC Comics, I have to say that I had low expectations. I have much of the run of the Justice League Detroit from the months in between J'onn J'onzz making his triumphant return to the Justice League to the lead-up to the Crisis on Infinite Earths that lead to the deaths of a good chunk of the Detroit-era League.

I will say right now that I thought that the Detroit-era of the Justice League was a great idea. On paper. Unfortunately, that idea hit some speedbumps on the way to getting to the final stories. One of those major speedbumps was Vibe. To be honest, the portrayal of the character had all of the subtlety of being hit in the head with a bowling ball. One thing that DC Comics had a hard time recovering from, after Marvel Comic's surge of popularity in the 60s and 70s, was that all of their characters were pretty much white middle class guys (except of course for the billionaire white guys), and there wasn't much for readers of color to grab on to with DC's books. I'm sure that was part of the reason for a multicultural approach to this run of the Justice League. It just wasn't very good and to prove that it wasn't very good, the final story arc lead to the death of a couple of the new characters and the ending of this version of the Justice League.

So, let's fast forward to 2013 (and ignore the "return" of the Detroit-era  Justice League in Darkest Night) and we see a return of some of the ideas of that team to the New 52. There's a new multicultural Justice League in town, and it is set in Detroit again. Michigan native Geoff Johns launches this new Justice League of America book (although he will be replaced by a permanent writer), probably in order to tie it more tightly into the next "Aquaman" of the New 52, the comic with the awkwardly long name of The Justice League of America's Vibe (hereafter known as Vibe). I'm sure that's to avoid "confusion" with the magazine of the same name, but who really knows.

The set-up of Justice League of America #1 and Vibe #1 are both the same: Darkseid's attempted invasion of Earth from the initial story arc of John's and Jim Lee's Justice League comic. Detroit was the first beachhead of Darkseid's invasion, and also the place where the first person died: the brother of Francisco "Cisco" Ramon, the man who will become the super-hero Vibe. Cisco was caught in the first Boom Tube opened onto Earth, and was saved by his brothers Armando and Dante. Armando was killed by a Parademon in the attempt, but did save his brother.Being caught in this Boom Tube is what has given Cisco his powers: the ability to sense beings from other dimensions (due to their differing vibrational rates) and a powerset of vibrational-oriented abilities.

Both of these comics set up the background of the formation of this new Justice League, and Vibe becoming a super-hero. I think the whole "the unlikeliest hero" is a bit too cute and self-aware on the part of Johns and DC Comics. Yes, we get that no one liked Vibe from the first time around but there were reasons for that. These comics do a much better job this time around, and I'm not the only one who thinks that. Vibe is a much less stereotypical character this time around, and I think that is what will potentially keep this book going, not any marketing ploys.

Another Detroit-era character, former mentor and support staff member James Gunn returns as a member of the secret government organization A.R.G.U.S. (no where near as cool or fun as S.H.A.D.E. but an attempt by the powers that be at DC Comics to make something like Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D.) and mentor and support staff to the new Justice League of America. I'm not 100% sold on A.R.G.U.S. within the setting yet, it just seems too derivative even after a year. Throw in Steve Trevor as a super-spy and Suicide Squad/Team 7 member/leader Amanda Waller running the whole shebang and I'm still not entirely sold on the concept. Another thing that I didn't think that I would be saying, but Vibe definitely came out of the gate a lot stronger than Justice League of America, which makes sense since Vibe does have a much smaller cast to deal with.

However, these are both good comics. I'm not the biggest fan of Geoff Johns. He is a good writer, don't get me wrong, but he can be very uneven in his storytelling. His work on Green Lantern tended towards being overly long, and sometimes convoluted, and his work on Justice League is no where near as strong as what he had done with the Justice Society in the past. That said, Johns brings an incredible amount of enthusiasm to any book that he writes. Love or hate his work, but this is a man who is motivated by love for characters. Unfortunately, as I said, that doesn't always promise quality but it can bring good things to any book that the man works on.

Are these books worth buying? Yes. I would say that Vibe is definitely the "must have" book of the two. Johns has tied this new character deeply into the story of the New 52, and that means that there are going to be some big things happening in this book (as demonstrated by the reveal on the last page that I am not going to spoil), and they are going to be important to the advancement of the setting. Justice League of America is still a wildcard for me. I know that this is also supposed to be important to the advancement of the overall setting, but I'm just not feeling it as much as I did with Vibe. Probably because there is so much going on, and so many characters to introduce that there wasn't as much of a chance for storytelling.

The opinion in the comics blogosphere seems to be that Vibe will be the book that won't last, but comparing these two first issues I am going to say that it has much longer legs (so far) than Justice League of America. I'm not saying that I expect the book to be cancelled, I am just saying that of the two, Vibe was the stronger comic. You should buy both Justice League of America and Vibe, but you should buy the hell out of Vibe.