In Justice League of America #0, Brad Meltzer and a bevy (a plethora?) of artists tell a story which stretches from the Jet Age into the future. It is more than a history lesson and more than a character study. It is a tale full of retcons, with the biggest ones being the relationships of its principals. Therefore, it is a history which almost certainly never happened until now.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, as if you couldn’t guess.
I’m sure many people will hate this issue. I am not among them. Of course, Meltzer and I are contemporaries, part of the pushing-forty demographic upon which DC has come to depend. We buy Archives and Absolutes, and we thrill to see the likes of Darwyn Cooke and Kurt Busiek restore, or at least allude to, those things Crisis on Infinite Earths sacrificed on the altars of “modernization” and “realism.”
Among those changes was the removal of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman from the founding of the Justice League. Each removal made sense in the character’s post-Crisis conception. Superman was both too powerful to need the League and too busy to join. Batman was too solitary. Wonder Woman hadn’t migrated to Patriarch’s World yet. That was fine, DC said; they were barely around at first anyway, and Black Canary made a better bridge with the Justice Society. Also, try not to think about Hawkman. Were we high?
Page 1 takes about two panels to unravel Byrne’s Superman/JLA and Superman/Batman revisions. (Get those old World’s Finests out of storage!) By the middle of page 2, Diana’s back in the mix as well; and by the bottom of page 4, the big retcon has begun in earnest.
I’m calling this a retcon because to me, the notion of an overt Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman “trinity” is a recent innovation, nurtured and perhaps even made possible by the characters’ post-Crisis relationships. (I consider the pre-Crisis “For The Man Who Has Everything” an exception.) John Byrne not only jettisoned the Superman/Batman friendship, he planted the seeds of what turned out to be a fairly complex Superman/Wonder Woman relationship. When later writers like Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, and Phil Jiminez began playing with Batman and Wonder Woman’s interactions, they could use S/WW as a counterpoint. A lot of this has to do with the redevelopment of Wonder Woman from the ground up, and the conscious push to make her a more prominent force in the DC Universe. In the early years of the original JLA, DC felt that too much Superman and Batman would overwhelm the rest of the team. At that point, and for decades to come, despite all her fame Wonder Woman was part of “the rest.”
Therefore, to say that she was always there, part of a real trio that held secret annual meetings to keep in touch with each other (and decide how to run the world! … sorry, got reminded of something else) is a fairly big deal. Not even Diana’s white-suit phase — which, ironically, confirms for me her treatment as part of “the rest” — prevents her from attending. This is more than just starting her history several years earlier than George Perez & Co. did, and arguably even more than restoring her Earth-1 history. It’s saying not only that she’s an equal, but that she should have been an equal all along.
So anyway, looks like Donna Troy’s going to be Wonder Woman for a while, huh?
As if all that weren’t enough, Meltzer juggles the past, present, and future of the so-new-it’s-retro DC Earth (Earth-1, again?) pretty skillfully. With the all-star artist lineup, I had naturally expected a more linear, textbookish approach to the JLA’s history, with Perez maybe drawing a two-page spread of the Satellite League and the first Crisis, and Kevin Maguire doing a few nine-panel pages of Justice League International. You know, typical stuff. Instead, Meltzer uses the anniversaries (I count 18 different scenes, not all of which are anniversaries) to present the new/old trinity through the years, mostly in the context of League business, but always focusing on their friendships.
This issue caps and informs what DC tried to show with Infinite Crisis — that these three characters have to work together for the universe to work as a whole; and what’s more, their work finds its best expression as the heart of the Justice League. This issue is to them as World’s Finest was to Superman and Batman. Before I read this issue I would have said that Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco’s Superman was being positioned as DC’s flagship title. Now the new JLA is squarely in contention.
What’s more, the flash-forwards tease some pretty major events — weddings, deaths, a fight, a discovery — each of which by themselves could keep the Internet buzzing for months. They may all be alternate futures wiped out by a League victory, but part of the charm of this book is permitting oneself to believe some of them aren’t. “Just imagine,” indeed.
Again, I’m sure not everyone will love this book. The retcons will undoubtedly frustrate fans who grew up with the League’s post-Crisis history. JLA: Year One and JLA: Incarnations did a lot to elevate The Rest, and in a very real sense Meltzer’s work knocks them right back down. I don’t have JLofA vol. 2 #0 in front of me, but it seems like Dick Grayson and Lex Luthor have the only other dialogue apart from the Big Three. Where the original League was a logical outgrowth of the revitalized Flash and Green Lantern, and had a very “Julie Schwartz” feel (which Waid and Barry Kitson naturally sought to evoke in Year One), Meltzer’s revisions run almost completely counter to that. This is a top-down reorganization.
Still, in an almost Darwinian way, the changed focus makes sense. These characters are DC’s Big Three because they survived the upheaval of the 1950s. They (or at least Superman and Batman) didn’t need the JLA as much as the JLA needed them. Therefore, the JLA became a haven for revitalized Silver Age characters (Atom, Hawkman, even Green Lantern and Green Arrow) whose solo books eventually fell by the wayside. Meltzer’s top-down approach recasts the Big Three’s longevity as friendship and leadership, to which The Rest would naturally gravitate. In this light the League looks less like a legacy organization honoring the Justice Society, and more like the “pantheon” Grant Morrison envisioned. Again, in the big picture, Flashes and Green Lanterns come and go, but the Trinity endures.
I was skeptical about this book going into it, and I still have some concerns. While the script worked well here, I grew to dislike Meltzer’s shifting-first-person narration and overdramatic captions in Identity Crisis. The lack of action sequences also makes me wonder whether Meltzer and artist Ed Benes can pull off the show-stopping feats the title demands. Even Justice League International had its share of fightin’ and ‘splodin.’ Finally, this issue was composed largely of conversations involving three people — will a 10- or 11-member Justice League, plus villains, get too crowded?
On balance, though, I’m excited about the title. It lays a good foundation through a clever mix of the old, the new, and the potential. If Booster Gold’s 52 prediction that this is the best Justice League ever does indeed come to pass, I won’t be surprised.