On the cover of the new Justice League there’s some squawk about a “Bold New Era” beginning. Only fifteen issues in, DC surely doesn’t mean to imply that they were faking it during the ostentatious New 52 relaunch, right? Well, not quite. But the first story arc, written by Geoff Johns (The Flash) and drawn by Jim Lee (X-Men) often felt like Superman, Batman, and the rest of DC’s best were action figures, getting a perfunctory crash-together by bored toddlers.
It was entertaining, pretty- and little else, despite the appearance of alien dictator Darkseid. That said, the more I chomp on this phenomenon, the more I realize the initial Justice League outing was simplified for as large an audience a possible- especially kids and teens who’d seen the recent Batman and Green Lantern films.
But now, with the visual fireworks of artist Ivan Reis in play, this is indeed a different, more fan-friendly League. Reis helped relaunch Aquaman last year, dazzling fans with a Johns-scripted tale of undersea cannibals (that revitalized the hero like never before). Here, we begin a cross-over with that title in which fish are seen leaving the Atlantic Coast in droves. A great opening page, forbidding and atmospheric, that brings us to test missiles blasting off from an aircraft carrier ahead of schedule. They zoom to the bottom of the Atlantic, hitting the fabled spires of Atlantis.
Action, we expected. Next, however, come the Earth-bound displays of personality that make us root for heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman. “Right in this room,” says Big Blue, “I thought about giving up Clark Kent completely. But I like being Clark Kent. I like who I am and who my parents were.” And, about whether or not to wear a mask, like Batman, there’s this incredible line: “I’d rather good people trust me than bad people fear me.” This is essential Superman speaking, whom we’d thought lost as the New 52 proceeded apace with endless intergalactic hay-makers.
Not to worry, those of you uninterested in seeing Clark and Diana wear glasses, sip wine, and revel in their anonymity. Once Atlantis counterattacks, hitting Metropolis with a tidal wave (Reis is at his astonishing best here), our heroes zip to the city’s defense. Also, the personal is layered throughout the widescreen, as reporter Lois Lane notices that Wonder Woman is awfully quick to Superman’s side.
Even the minor scene where Batman chases and disarms the Scarecrow’s thugs (in boats, under the Gotham Bridge) is beautiful. Reis, who years ago polished his muscular style on the brightly-lit Green Lantern, seems particularly thrilled to draw the Caped Crusader. Fighting for just a few panels, he’s as acrobatic as he is unholy. Then Aquaman intervenes, and we overhear a few cops try to bring him into their squalid little locker room: “Oh, yeah, sure. He’s got an Aqua-Signal that throws fifty pounds of fish food into the bay whenever a sailboat capsizes.” Yet when his ravishing wife Mera arrives, they haven’t much to say. “Speechless?” she inquires, “Or just a little wet, I guess.”
This first issue of “Throne of Atlantis” leads directly into Aquaman, also out this week and welcoming new series artist Paul Pelletier (She-Hulk). We learn that Prince Arthur himself wrote up the plan of attack that his brother now uses against the entire East Coast. In Johns’ hands this premise captivates, though it owes much to Mark Waid’s 2000 JLA story “Tower of Babel.” More than likely, the heavyweight scribe is well aware of this. He might even be teasing us, chumming the water so we sink our teeth in.