Justice League #34
Writer: Christopher Priest
Artist: Pete Woods
Letterer: Willie Schu
Cover: Pete Woods
Publisher: DC Comics
A review by Nico Sprezzatura.
Despite their lofty status as the premier superhero team of popular culture (until The Avengers hit theaters in 2012, anyway…), the Justice League have been stuck in a rut. On the comics side of things, there hasn’t really been a blockbuster take on their mythos for quite some time, while various movies based on them —animated and live-action– have been met with lukewarm reception. The Injustice video game franchise has been successful, and Cartoon Network’s Justice League Action is fairly popular with kids, but even those entries in the canon have their detractors.
So how do you solve a problem like the Justice League? Enter Christopher Priest, apparently.
The esoteric writer of Rebirth’s Deathstroke —itself a very different comic from Justice League— has been given the JLA’s steering wheel for at least one new arc, and it may very well be the publisher’s most inspired decision in recent memory. You don’t bring someone like Priest aboard if you aren’t looking to rock the boat a little bit.
And rock the boat he does with Justice League #34. Retaining the team’s Rebirth roster —Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern(s), Cyborg, The Flash Aquaman— but with a new perspective on what they represent, Priest applies his grounded (but not gritty) voice to the JLA’s usual superheroics. I haven’t read any of the past thirty-three issues leading up to this latest one, so it’s much appreciated that Priest doesn’t dwell on current continuity either.
Priest has described this arc, titled “The People vs. Justice League”, as being ”the disintegration of Batman and … why he is essential to the League.” You definitely get a sense of that in this first chapter, with a visibly exhausted Bruce deciding that even the World’s Greatest Detective needs a break every now and then. Batman is often seen as being the JL’s lynchpin member both narratively and meta-textually, so I’m really interested to see where the story moves from that concept.
In that same interview with Newsarama, he also points out that the Justice League wouldn’t be met with universal approval from people in the year 2017, so that’s another aspect I’m looking forward to seeing. Cynicism in superhero comics can be very, very bad, but Priest has proven himself to be the reasonable voice of realism in these fantastical shared universes, so I’m none too worried about his ability to deftly handle such themes.
Priest’s arrival on Justice League is also quite important in a more substantial way. Like I mentioned in my review of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #13 a few weeks ago, creator diversity between the Big Two is getting incrementally better, but there’s still work to be done. While white creators —who are also usually both straight and male— seem to be given free reign over the characters available to them, the same isn’t true for everybody else.
With Justice League #34, Christopher Priest —who is black— joins a limited group of non-white writers at the helm of DC’s flagship superteam. (He might actually be the only one ever, but there’s been so much talent attached to Justice League in its time that it would take forever to determine that. Either way, the demographics of its myriad creators skew very straight, white, and male.)
I’d be completely, totally remiss if I didn’t give incoming artist Pete Woods a lion’s share of praise in discussing this issue, because he turns in some phenomenal work here. As someone who wasn’t previously aware of him, Justice League #34 offers that exciting sensation of discovering a creative talent’s work for the first time and absolutely loving it.
Woods’ illustrations are a great mix of stylization and naturalism that totally works with Priest’s script. The look of Justice League #34 takes obvious influence from the widescreen comics approach of Bryan Hitch (who, coincidentally, was the original writer of this volume) but isn’t beholden to that aesthetic, with plenty of inset panels and creative layouts that remind you it’s a comic book, and not a film being told in storyboard format.
(Also, there’s a great throwback roster lineup spread with each member’s face and name, which I’ll never not love.)
At the end of the day, the Justice League is our prototypical ideal of what a superhero team should be, and Woods’ art reflects that while still conveying the spirit of Priest’s words — which, by the way, are rendered well by letterer Willie Schu.
Buy it. After a long string of middling comics and a disappointing live-action film, Justice League #34 gives the DC franchise a much-needed shot in the arm.