Sep 21, 2020
Snyder Cut inspirations: The New 52 Justice League (2011) #1-6
So a film dropped last week on HBO Max: Zack Snyder’s Justice League AKA the “Snyder Cut”. And apparently people are very positive about it, save a guy whose name rhymes with Taser Lisp. I’m not going to be reviewing the film because I don’t have HBO Max, nor will I be delving into some of the controversies regarding the movie and its auteur director. Instead, I’ll be looking at one of the inspirations for the film, the storyline that played out in the first six issues of DC’s 2011 Justice League series, which was part of their “New 52” companywide relaunch/revamp.
As much as I’d love to rant about the New 52, I think over the past decade there have been plenty of other people who have voiced their opinions about it in blogs and YouTube videos. I’ve mostly said my piece through a means that matters, and that was with my money, and I shall do my best to focus on the story at hand. So without further delay I give you… The New 52 Justice League!
Our story begins in Gotham City, where Batman is hunting a strange being, while at the same time being hunted by the police. Eluding the latter and catching up with the former, Batman tries to find out what the strange being was doing by “the docks” when he seems to immolate himself. Only he doesn’t; he just catches fire to get rid of his homeless rags and reveals himself to be some sort of alien or creature. Batman, caught offguard, takes it on the chin, and before we can see whether or not he wins the fight, the creature is struck by a glowing green fire truck. Yes, Green Lantern’s on the scene.
Police aircraft open up on the pair, and damn, crime in Gotham has to be utterly insane if the GCPD choppers are outfitted with .50 caliber machine guns. Green Lantern deflects the bullets, but the distraction is enough for the creature to blindside him and slip away. Bats and GL give chase and along the way, we get some exposition on how Green Lantern finds himself in Gotham: he’s a space cop and got a tip about an unauthorized alien presence. Lantern is shocked when he finds out Batman has no super powers, but Bruce is smooth enough to get the man’s ring off his finger, much to Hal Jordan’s chagrin.
Ultimately, the pair find the creature in the sewers setting up some sort of a box; in fact, you might call it a mother of a box. The creature blows itself up in an attempt to kill the pair, but Green Lantern manages to protect them both with a handy-dandy vault construct. They now have the box in hand and Hal suggests the thing might be connected to that “alien” in Metropolis, AKA Superman. Meanwhile at a high school football game, a young man named Victor Stone is tearing it up, but sadly his father isn’t here to see him in action.
Back with the heroes, the pair hit Metropolis. And Metropolis hits back.
Our first issue ends with a splash page of a grimly smiling Superman asking Batman what he can do.
Issue two opens up in Central City, where a young forensic scientist named Barry Allen is attempting to get a detective to look at some forensic evidence, but everyone’s been forced to put any and all cases on hold in order to find out who the Flash is.
Back in Metropolis, Batman isn’t exactly impressing Superman as he exausts all the toys in his utility belt. Supes starts choking Batman out, but Green Lantern’s back for round two.
And this goes about as well as expected. Batman figures out Superman was in a fight before they showed and so his blood is up, and he tells Lantern that they can’t beat Superman because he’s too strong and fast. Lantern’s response is to call Barry Allen. It turns out Green Lantern and the Flash have had at least one team-up and are on a first name basis, and they once took down a “talking gorilla” while destroying the Museum of Natural History in the process. Don’t worry; they can probably put up another museum in its place later. But that little misadventure is why Central City’s law enforcement wants to bring in the Flash. Barry’s about to blow Green Lantern off when Lantern exclaims Superman is about to kill them. That’s enough for Barry.
Initially getting the upper hand, Superman puts down the Flash, but Batman is able to step in and talk the Metroplis Marvel down. Explaining why they’re here, Superman says he was also taking on a creature with a box, but he thought the box blew up with his adversary. As the four flee underground to avoid the military, Batman expresses concern about how many boxes are out there.
Meanwhile at a S.T.A.R. Labs in Detroit, Doctor Silas Stone examines the box that Superman’s opponent had with him—which we know by now is a Mother Box—and learns more have popped up in areas of superhuman activity. His son Victor shows up, but Silas has little time for him. Damn, man, somebody should play this dude some Harry Chapin. Back with the four heroes, they bicker and discuss their next move. And then their Mother Box starts pinging and soon a dimensional portal booms open, spilling out a horde of demonic creatures. The same thing happens in Detroit, with Victor getting caught in the blast.
Issue three open in Washington DC, with Colonel Steve Trevor chewing out a guard who’s watching various TV news reports about protestors, with anchors talking about property damage and loss of life, with superhumans being responsible. It seems Steve is Diana’s handler, and upon hearing of a “winged harpy” terrorizing downtown DC, she’s off to find it.
People naturally are a little wary of a costumed woman waving a sword around and asking about a harpy. While this might be normal behavior at GenCon, in DC it’s just a tiny bit weird. As everyone gawks, a young girl thinks Diana is cool and says so, but in her excitement she drops her ice cream. Diana, never having had any, gets a cone for herself and her new little friend without paying, because presumably Paradise Island is a socialist utopia and they don’t use money. Soon, Steve catches up to Diana. Just then, more of those winged creatures—which we recognize as parademons—erupt through a dimensional portal, and a grinning Diana prepares for a fight.
In Detroit, Silas Stone finally starts acting like a dad; in the wake of the attack he gets an intern to help get Victor to “the red room”. Meanwhile in Metropolis, the four heroes fight parademons, and Barry notes that this is all happening worldwide and people think it’s their fault. And Barry’s also shocked Batman doesn’t have powers, because he thought he was a vampire (heh). The gang realize that the attackers aren’t killing anyone; they’re snatching innocent people up for some reason. And then Wonder Woman shows up, without any explanation of how she got from DC to Metropolis so fast, or how she knew where to find the others.
Cut to Silas injecting his son with nanites, and applying the “Promethium skin graft”. And in response, Victor starts tripping balls and has visions of a huge dark figure atop a mountain. Back near Metropolis, a structure rises from the ocean and the gang wonders what the hell it is. Another person has questions, too: a man who comes from the sea.
In the next issue, Victor Stone is now a cyborg, and having trouble assimilating to his new bits and pieces, but Daddy Silas assures him that it’ll be alright, and all the weird technology infused with his body will ultimately come to belong to him. But the parademons attack and Victor has no time to learn how to work his body. But it’s okay, because his body has a pretty good idea of what needs to be done.
Back with the others, a verbal altercation breaks out as the group tries to decide who’s in charge. Green Lantern breaks down what the gang can do, and he wonders what Aquaman brings to the table. That’s when more parademons attack. Aquaman’s response?
He follows up with a trident to a parademon’s face, which shuts Green Lantern up. More demons appear and military helicopters engage, indiscriminately firing at them and the super-people despite Steve Trevor’s objections.
Meanwhile, Victor wanders randomly, and comes across a woman being attacked by parademons. He saves her, but just touching the creatures initiates a data dump regarding Darkseid. Then a boom tube opens up, sucking him in. Back with the others, they fight a two front war against the military and parademons, and then Vic gets spit out of his tube to land among the others. He warns the others that “he” is coming. Who is he? Another boom erupts and someone comes striding out.
Issue five has Darkseid taking down Superman with his Omega Beams and capturing him, while the Flash vibrates through some parademons to allow the beam tracking him to blow up the minions. Darkseid then proceeds to take out the others, leveling a city block and breaking Green Lantern’s arm. Lantern wants to continue the fight, but Batman talks him down and points out what makes the two of them unique is they’re normal humans compared to the others, and maybe they both have something to prove. Batman then does the only thing he can think of to earn Lantern’s trust.
Yeah, I can imagine trying to tell somebody from Los Angeles that I’m really “Richard Gilbert” and see where that gets me. He says they have to start acting like a team, and Green Lantern will be the bright, shiny distraction while the rest take Darkseid down, and then Batman allows himself to be captured so he can find Superman. With the framework of a plan in place, the rest head out.
Batman Bruce then arrives elsewhere.
In the final issue of this story arc, the heroes take the fight to Darkseid, and for a moment hold their own. Meanwhile,
Batman Bruce finds Superman… and some others…
Back on Earth, Wonder Woman and Aquaman stick pointy things into Darkseid’s eyes, while Plan B is for Victor to activate the Mother Boxes and re-open the portals. The boxes belong to Superman’s torturers take them both out, and
Batman Bruce gets Clark up on his feet. Superman soon comes blasting through a portal to slam into a distracted Darkseid. Bruce Batman follows and gives Victor an inspirational speech that allows him to close the portals once and for all, frying the Mother Boxes. It turns out saving the world gets the gang in good with the populace, and they go from hunted fugitives to heroes practically overnight. After receiving accolades from the president, another emergency comes up and the “Super Seven” head out to save the world again.
So that was the introduction of the Justice League to the world at large in DC’s New 52. The biggest positive is Jim Lee’s art. It’s excellent here; he and Johns deliver tones both heroic—
I admit that after Lee’s work on a certain title with Frank Miller, I couldn’t help expecting our cloaked hero to snap, “I’m the God-damn Batman!” And I don’t know if it was Lee’s job to to redesign everyone’s costumes; if so, it was a huge mistake, because either he lacked creativity or it was artistic shorthand that made him give Superman, Aquaman, and Green Lantern all the same collars. I’m not a fan of Superman’s new outfit; I get why his underwear was taken away because it’s literally decades out of date, but I think maybe they needed speedlines along the sides or something to break up the too-blue bodysuit. And I think the Flash’s boots are too busy and Wonder Woman just doesn’t look right in silver. And what the hell was wrong with her red boots? But those are minor issues; overall, his work is truly top notch here.
I was initially irked at the way the characters were written, then I realized this is essentially “Year One” for everyone, and so they’re inexperienced and used to—for the most part—working on their own. I did like the fact that Barry and Hal had already teamed up, hearkening back to their Silver Age days. But I did think Johns missed the mark with Diana. Having reread George Perez’s origin story just last year, Geoff Johns’ take on Wonder Woman is sorely lacking. I’m also not crazy about how casual they all are with their secret identities. Barry lets slip that he works in a crime lab—which for any halfway decent detective is more than enough to pin down who he is—and Hal actually blurts out Barry’s name. I remember being annoyed at how easily Batman gave up his identity, but with this second look it’s not so bothersome now. Does he surrender that information a little too casually? Maybe, but I also get how he uses that vulnerability to drive home the stakes to Hal. Speaking of Hal, he’s a bit of a tool here, but it seems Johns was going for an arrogant showboat whose heart is in the right place.
So other than Wonder Woman, I thought the characterizations were decent. I also can’t help but compare this to Marvel’s The Ultimates; Johns did what Mark Millar failed to do there, and that’s giving me a superhero team I can actually like. Millar comes from a place where superheroes seem to be mentally damaged or utter assholes and that simply never appealed to me. Sorry, Mark, I want to actually like or be interested in the heroes I’m reading about.
One final element I had problems with was the inclusion of Cyborg, but over time it’s bothered me less. Part of it is because I always associated him with the Teen Titans, and honestly, that still sticks with me, but the greater issue is how the Martian Manhunter, my favorite Justice Leaguer (with Firestorm coming a close second) got kicked off the team to make room for Victor, and got stuck on that horrible Stormwatch series which was essentially a repackaging of the Authority. Still, Geoff Johns did a credible job balancing the introduction of Darkseid with Cyborg’s origin. Did Darkseid go down too easily? Well, he was driven back, and not really defeated, so I thought Johns didn’t do too badly insuring the “heel’s” loss didn’t mar his reputation as a badass.
Sadly, this Justice League series failed to hold my interest. After a couple more issues, I found myself disliking the run overall, perhaps in part because I missed the aforementioned heroes, and also because Johns was trying to sell me on the idea that the team roster hadn’t changed in four years. By issue seven, which was supposed to take place in current times, we should have already had a healthy roster of old favorites like J’onn, Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Elongated Man, etc. But if you get a chance, I highly recommend that you check this story out; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Next week, I return to the world of cinema with a look at a forgotten gem from Keanu Reeves: Johnny Mnemonic!