Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

27 July 2006

Showcase Presents Justice League of America, v. 1

Collects: The Brave and the Bold #28-30, Justice League of America #1-16, and Mystery in Space #75 (1960-2)

Released: December 2005 (DC)

Hey, look! A DC book! Now my life is complete.

Well, not really. But that won’t stop me from plowing through DC Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, v. 1.

JLA v. 1 is most interesting as a 500+-page black-and-white historical artifact. The Silver Age of superhero comics started with the first comic in this volume, The Brave and the Bold #28, in which the JLA fights a giant starfish from space. If you were part of the premiere superteam in the DC Universe, you’d probably choose a less laughable beginning, but this is what we’re given. Not an auspicious beginning, to be sure, but every great trend starts somewhere, and this is where the Silver Age began.

Whatever you can about the differences between DC and Marvel today, this book starkly highlights what was so different about those early Marvel comics. In the JLA, there is no bickering between characters, and there’s very little in the way of interesting interaction between the heroes at all. When they have to split up to fight a menace, they do so randomly or on the basis of working with someone they haven’t worked with before. The characters have no personal lives, and the stories are completely about the plot.

And the plots? Silver Age absurdity. Nitwits like Amos Fortune manipulating the heroes’ (and his own) good and bad luck glands. An alien delon (“equivalent to an Earth dictator”) imprisoning the JLA aboard a space galley, complete with oars. Three wizards conquering Camelot in big-finned Cadillacs. The Getaway Mastermind engineering a prison break with a balloon and matchbox he found … plus a shrinking ray he cobbled together in the prison machine shop. (I especially love the breathless scientific asides: “Scientific experiments by Dr. Burr at Yale University have proven that all living things are surrounded by an electrodynamic field of their own making!”)

I’m being a little harsh. There’s a lot of goofy, nonsensical stuff in early Marvel too. But Marvel doesn’t seem to have villains exploiting the heroes’ weakness in every adventure (kryptonite for Superman, the color yellow for Green Lantern, fire for Martian Manhunter), nor did they have their most popular characters, like Batman and Superman, show up for duty only occasionally. (With the New Avengers, I think Wolverine shows up when he wants to. Want to make something of it, bub?)

For the sake of full disclosure, I received this volume free from the DC booth at the annual American Library Association conference in New Orleans. Thanks, DC!

Overall, JLA v. 1 is dull and lacks the spark of Silver Age Marvel.

Rating: (2 of 5)

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