Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Justice League #1

Okay, so there are no prizes for identifying that this picture is taken from Raiders of the Lost Ark. This classic rolling boulder scene has to be one of the most iconic scenes in any movie in the history of cinema. But what's it doing here in a post about the relaunched JLA?

I'll get to that.

First, let's add a little context. A few months ago, DC announced all its titles would be refashioned, repackaged and relaunched as 52 new titles, all numbered from Issue #1. Familiar characters would have their costumes redesigned (again) and, in some cases, their origins rebooted (again) but - for the most part - it would be the same old DCU made more accessible to new readers. And in both print and digital formats.

The first of the 52 new titles, the relaunched Justice League, went on sale today and the initial reaction online has been ... mixed. The consensus is that Jim Lee's art is outstanding, Geoff Johns's writing is fairly average and the story, overall, is underwhelming.

The principal area of contention has been that the story concerns itself with the initial meeting between Batman and Green Lantern. There is action, but it's not spectacular. There are other characters but they're relegated to minor supporting roles. There are signs that the seeds of a larger, more complex story are being sown, but the issue itself spends far too much time showing GL and Bats in conversation.

In short, the view seems to be that JLA #1 is a perfectly adequate (if unexceptional) first chapter in a slow-building story, adequate for existing JLA fans but completely lacking the dramatic, extravagant splash that's required to give new readers a taste of what the title will (hopefully) become.

The kind of splash which, you may remember, was delivered so successfully by Indy's now classic encounter with that rolling boulder.

Johns may be patiently laying the groundwork for several wonderful issues of this title but, unless your ambition is to appeal exclusively to an already established fan base (as with a long-running TV series) or selling the complete story in a single instalment (as with most novels or movies), then you need to open with something that also grabs the attention of your new target audience.

The opening sequence to Raiders of the Lost Ark is a text book example of how that should be done. It's easy to forget now that Indy has become part of our collective cultural consciousness but, when Raiders first hit cinema screens, nobody knew who Indiana Jones was. Nobody knew that an Indy adventure was supposed to be about archaeology, arcane relics, Nazis, impossible stunts and edge-of-the-seat, heart-in-the-mouth thrills and spills. Sure, there would have to be a lengthy exposition sequence somewhere near the beginning of the film, but Spielberg appreciated that - even before that - there needed to be something to introduce the flavour of the movie. Something like a huge rolling boulder.

By the time that boulder had finished careering through the cave, the audience knew that Indy was an archaeologist with a bull whip, a battered fedora and a tendency to land himself in danger. In addition, they'd been given a taste of the adrenaline-fuelled, over-the-top action and humour that would come to characterise his adventures. And what's more, it had all been done without a single word of exposition.

Geoff Johns may have a great story lined up for the rest of his run on the new JLA title. But, having missed his chance in the first issue, it seems that - if he wants to share that story with anyone other than DC's existing fan base - then judging by the initial online reaction to JLA #1, he badly needs to introduce a rolling boulder. Soon.


  1. Excellent point! It's actually quite absurd that DC would allow such a slow, nondescript issue to be published as a new #1 which is supposed to appeal to new readers. Seems like they've done everything wrong and are in fact appealing to no one - scaring away old readers and not inviting in new ones.

  2. And, of course, it's not just a #1 ... it's the #1! The very first of fifty-two #1s! This really couldn't afford to be an anticlimax. It had to be the equivalent of a gateway drug to the rest of the DCU!