Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: Justice League #1 (2011). DC's Uphill Battle.

So if you haven't heard, in the wake of rapidly diminishing sales, (former?) giant DC Comics has abandoned decades of continuity and has rebooted many of their series (and added some new ones). In fact, this month will see a mind-boggling 52 new issues one in an attempt to appeal to a broader/changing audience. Part of this plan will be to offer each issue digitally on the same day that the print version is released. It's a ballsy move and while I'm not by any means a regular mainstream comics reader, I'm very interested to see how this new sales/distribution model works.

So I'm submitting myself to be part of the experiment. If DC is willing to make a bold move to appeal to new readers, then I an willing to dip my toe in and give them a try. Can the new slate of books engage (and more importantly keep) a casual/lapsed reader like myself who has been put off by impenetrable continuity and soap opera style stories.

The first book released today and it is Justice League #1 , written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee.

I like that the new version of Green Lantern has a mini-gun for a dick!
Fellow contributor Greymattersplat already submitted an early review of the book here, so be sure to check out his thoughts (as someone who has been following the current continuity. And to hear my noob thoughts join me after the jump!

I couldn't get to my local comic store today (Quality Comics. Support them! Love them!), and I'm not too keen about keeping physical copies of comics anyway (I'd prefer to grab them in a nicely bound trade collection), so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out the digital download using Comixology on my iPad.

Now, for the sake of just reviewing the book, I might have even been able to borrow a copy, and I'm sure that I could have gotten a free one by more nefarious means, but I was very determined to actually use the service, support DC, pay for the book and get the whole experience. What does it feel like to purchase a digital comic? Would I feel like I was getting something of value, or would there be immediate buyer's remorse.

The book cost me about $4.40 Australian. When I realised that was how much a digital copy was going to cost, I already felt some hesitation, but I had already promised myself to give it a shot. I pressed "purchase" and it kind of stung.

$4.40 is absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, but entertainment wise, these days, it has a surprising amount of purchasing power. I can buy a couple of songs on itunes with change, I can choose from a ton of iphone apps (I could buy the Baby Monkey Riding Backwards on a Pig game twice!). In the real world I could buy two Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs and they currently have smurfs inside them! I've bought Blu-rays for $8! So, yeah, it's not a lot of money, but if they want me to purchase every month then I need to perceive some value.

I read the book in seven minutes. Not a huge amount of entertainment. Nothing is stopping me from reading it again and again and again, but I feel pretty confident I'm not going to. The biggest problem though is that I don't really feel like I bought anything. Without something physical in my hand, I feel zero ownership. I really just feel like I'm reading pages on somebody's website. I browse a lot of interesting things online (often for longer than 7 minutes) so what is it about this experience that makes it so enjoyable and unmissable that I'd be prepared to pay $4 for it each month? Sadly nothing.

But let's put all that aside for the moment and talk about the actual story.

What's This Thing All About Anyway? (Spoilerz! But scroll down and I'll tell you when they stop if you want to jump back in!)

We're really going back to basics with this book and we're seeing the Justice League members encounter each other for the first time. And that's significant in this new series particularly because the League will actually be made up of all the A-list characters for a change: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman (really?), and... Cyborg? I never thought of Cyborg as a heavy-hitter. That's cool - if he's there for diversity then let's roll with it.

So do we see all the characters in this book? No. The bulk of the issue is Batman encountering Green Lantern while tracking down an alien villain who is wreaking havoc on the streets of Gotham. The two of them bicker, and try to decipher each other, and even nearly come to blows for no apparent reason. Which kind of shits me. When I meet new people I don't start fighting them within minutes. Superheroes really are super-assholes. There's no getting around it.

We get a mild diversion where we the pre-Cyborg Vic Stone kick ass at football (and clearly I am reading Justice League because I just love football) and then Lantern and Batman head to Metropolis to meet with Superman for the first time. And how does Superman welcome Green Lantern? You guessed it! The two of them fight! So even Superman is an asshole that can't last two minutes without hitting someone.

There's no time for a lot of characterization here beyond what we bring to the book based on our prior knowledge. We all know what to expect from Batman and he's relatively brooding and suspicious. Green Lantern just comes off as an obnoxious dick, which makes me wonder if he's always been like that, or if this is the Ryan Reynolds version, and Superman really only performs a beating at the very end. He's no longer wearing his underpants - sorry! "Trunks" though.

It's by no means a complete story, and I believe that the arc is intended to be something like 4 or 5 issues.

End Spoilers.

All that said, I'm reasonably intrigued. It's good enough, and I'd read more if it was put in front of me. Having read Hush for the first time recently, I enjoyed Jim Lee's over-the-top, sometimes crazy and ugly, art. He can't do subtlety, but I like his world. (The last time I read mainstream comics religiously was actually Jim Lee's early nineties X-Men run which, at the time, I adored).

But the real problem boils down to perceived value again. And I realise I'm harping on this more than the content of the book itself, but a big part of what DC is doing here is experimenting with a new sales model. You're going to read a lot of reviews on sites where they probably got the book for free. If this was free I'd say, "Yeah cool! Well done, DC. I'll read the next one" but do I want to pay $4.40 for it? I really don't. Do I want to pay $228 for digital copies of all 52 books? Absolutely not. And I won't be trying much else because of it.

So let's be constructive. What would I be willing to do? I'd pay $20 for a six issue collection in trade. That's good value to me and would like nice on my bookshelf. That I could do. Although at this stage there's nothing about this first story that suggests that this is a keeper. I have a lot of awesome books on my shelves, and this series will need to be pretty damn great to earn it's place on there.

But I think there's another option too, and that would be DC monkeying around with their pricing to find a model that's far more like itunes (and they may well be forced to do this after the first couple of issues - I imagine that people will give them more leeway during these first issues because the interest is still high).

If I was paying a $1 for a digital copy then I'd buy the next one. At a dollar I'd even try all 52 of the new #1's. that's a good price. It's worth that to me.

At $2 I'd try 10 - 20 new numbers ones and then only stick with my very favourites.

At $4.40 I'm probably done.

(A shame though because I was reading about the other 51 comics and there is some batshit insane stuff in there. The African Batman!? Good heavens!)


  1. oh wow I hate wonderwomans outfit. And no, I don't have anything more constructive than that to say.

  2. I can't stand digital comics, and I can rarely be bothered to have the "get every issue" mentality to make it to a comic store every week either. Bring on the TPB's!! I am interested in the new batman and superman titles AND perhaps JLA too. But yeah cost is prohibitive. Hmmph. You didn't help me make up my mind any better than greymattersplat :D Oh well....

  3. In my secret identity as an iPhone developer and publisher I know all about piracy and the "race to zero" created by App Store pricing pressure. If DC really thinks they can dig a moat around their digital releases and keep prices high to appease their print channel ... then more power to them, brother! But in this digital marketplace they are going to lose any apples-to-apples comparison on price. A book you finish in seven minutes versus a (possibly free) game you can play for months?

    Game over, dude.

  4. Only one thing stuck out for me in JLA #1;

    Green Lantern: "Hey Batman, I see you have alien problems! As a space cop, I am not just a racist, but a xeno-racist and by this, I am telling you that any time an alien starts some shit you may as well just grab the nearest other alien because fuck it, right? Let's go get that alien from Metropolis, he's probably stealing our women or jobs or some shit anyway."

    Batman: "Once upon a time I would have used my keen detective skills and a healthy dose of scepticism to call you a 'bullshit fisherman' before knocking you out and disappearing into the night. However, NEW Batman is more open-minded to bullshit reasoning and will simply go along with you for the excuse to punch an alien in the face."