When Justice League: Cry For Justice #1 hit the store last week, there was a brief but animated conversation amongst my fellow LBW pals about who should get to review it, since no one wanted the hassle; blame the talky, grating preview that ran in the DC books a few weeks back, and the book’s super-lame sub-title, which sounds like a made-for-TV movie about child abduction starring Joanna Kerns. Being a glutton for punishment, and as someone who’s more than willing to read just about anything with the words “justice” and “league” in the title, I volunteered for the job. After all, this series is written by James Robinson, and features nicely painted art by newcomer Mauro Cascioli (the last few issues of Trials of Shazam), so how bad could it be?
Short answer? Pretty bad. Long answer? Well…
The story goes that Hal Jordan is pissed that the Justice League of America is doing nothing to avenge the deaths of Batman and Martian Manhunter. He argues, perhaps rightly, that Libra and his Secret Society of Super-Villains have gotten away with murder, since no one is actively tracking him down. Superman and the other Leaguers wring their hands and try to calm Hal down, but he’s not having it, so he quits the team that he’s not even really on anymore to go seek sweet, sweet revenge, with old pal Green Arrow in tow. We’re then treated to a series of scenes introducing various other heroes on similar quests. Ray Palmer is mad that Prometheus killed a scientist buddy of his, and he declares to current Atom Ryan Choi that he wants…JUSTICE! But wait, there’s more. Mikaal Tomas, aka the blue alien version of Starman, learns that his ex-boyfriend was accidentally killed during a super-villain showdown with the cops. He storms out of the funeral home, hungry for…JUSTICE! Not enough? All right, then, how about Congorilla? A bunch of his simian pals, along with African superhero Freedom Beast, just got murdered by poachers or something. A situation like this calls for…JUSTICE! I’m not exaggerating here—each of these sequences ends with the hero running off to seek…JUSTICE, whether declared by themselves or the over-enthusiastic narrator. Yep, a literal Cry For Justice. It’s already annoying, and we only meet half the cast in this issue. My guess is it won’t get any less irritating with the introductions of Supergirl, Batwoman, and Freddy Freeman next month.
This comic has a lot of problems. To begin with, it’s a spin-off of a book that is bleeding readers every month, a book that’s locked into a creative tailspin as the happenings in various “event” books dictate who can appear in it, not the writers. This has already led to the high-profile dismissal of writer Dwayne McDuffie, and the announcement of new writer…wait for it…James Robinson. Does this mean that, if Robinson’s Cry For Justice is the book where heroes go out to actively seek…JUSTICE (sorry), that his Justice League of America will be the book for heroes who…I don’t know, sit around watching America’s Next Top Model or something? Back to the point, though--this is an unnecessary tie-in to a book that is in serious trouble. More attention should be paid to fixing what should be one of DC's top titles rather than trying to squeeze even more money out of its dwindling readership.
Which brings me to the larger problem—the faulty premise. What exactly does it mean that they’re going to actively go out and seek…THE J WORD? Are they going to act as judge, jury, and executioner? Probably not, as this is a DC book and not an Ultimate Marvel book or something, which begs the question—what sets it apart? What, exactly, is the big deal that makes this book stand out from the gazillion other super-team books out there? It seems to me that every few years, some writer hits on this as a selling point. “My guys don’t just sit around waiting for the Trouble Alert, they go out and they get the bad guys!” Kurt Busiek and Alan Davis introduced this idea in The Avengers about eight or nine years ago. It lasted for all of one (admittedly cool) issue, but then the book got embroiled in a fifteen-issue Kang epic that represented Busiek’s swan song on the title. More recently, Judd Winick and Tom Raney tried a similar approach in Outsiders. It was a bit more successful, but only because it was revealed that Deathstroke (I think?) was manipulating the team into taking his criminal rivals off the board. Pretty clever for a Judd Winick book, but the jig was up for the premise after that. My point is, no matter how you try to spin it, it's still just another super-team book; there's not enough that's different or exciting about it to justify its existence.
Now, the art in this book is nice enough, in a lifeless, Alex Ross-y kind of way. The real disappointment here is Robinson, who doesn’t seem to have his heart in it. His Starman is an important classic, and is rightly being celebrated in DC’s new omnibus editions, and his Superman work has been enjoyable if not excellent, but a book like this feels like a money job. He’s assembled a very weird assortment of nostalgic favourites, corporate-mandated newbies, and genuine curveballs, and come up with a yawn-inducing premise to bring them all together. At the rate this book moves, by the time the team is assembled and established, its six-issue length will be finished. But I guess by then he’ll be writing the flagship JLA title anyway. Is there no…JUSTICE?