Justice by Alex Ross and Jim Kreuger exists as a love letter to both the Silver Age of Comic Books, and also the “Super Friends” cartoon of the 1970s and 1980s. Featuring Ross’s masterful realistic artstyle amidst a story of the Justice League’s greatest challenge, Justice throws the DC Universe of the 1970s into a blender, with some modern sensibilities for flavor.
The story’s premise involves a psychic dream of the world’s destruction being transmitted to the world’s greatest supervillains.Thus, they unite, not to take over the world, but supposedly to save it.
The world is healed of its ills by supervillains, as the various superheroes begin to be picked off one by one.
Soon, a greater conspiracy is unearthed, with a mechanical puppet master pitting organic life, that which he can not control, against itself
The entirety of the Justice League up into the 1970s era (with a few additions such as Captain Marvel and Plastic Man) make an appearance in the story, along with their particular arch enemy. Superman and Batman have several of their villains appear (Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Metallo, Parasite, Bizarro, Toyman, The Joker, The Riddler, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and a cameo appearance from Two-Face), whereas The Flash, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman have a few of theres (Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd, Black Adam, Doctor Sivana, Mr. Mind, Cheetah, and Giganta). Aquaman and Green Lantern merely face sole villains (Black Manta and Sinestro). Hawkman, Hawkgirl, The Atom, and Martian Manhunter either didn’t have arch foes yet or they simply don’t appear in the story, so they share some of the other villains (such as Toyman, Gorilla Grodd, and Giganta).
Despite the insistence on Silver/early Bronze Age continuity, modern technology such as phones and computers are used, creating a strange juxtaposition of present day technology with some of the more outdated (and realistically drawn, at that) costumes.
Said realistic art is the highlight of the book, however, giving the characters and the story an instantly classic look and feeling. It’s also especially cool to look at when it showcases some of the stranger or scarier aspects of the DC Universe, such as this aquatic transitional form for the shape shifting Martian Manhunter.
Certain characters get more screentime and development than others, namely Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Aquaman. The latter has to deal with being experimented upon by Brainiac, as well as having his son kidnapped by Black Manta. This is an obvious revision of the infamous storyline in the 1970s Aquaman comics in which Manta killed Aquaman’s son, an event which Alex Ross is a known critic of.
Aquaman also survives being attacked and bitten (on the wrists no less) by sharks, a subtly jab at the storyline in the 1990s in which his hands was bitten off by a piranha. Despite these rejections of some of the darker elements in the character’s history, he is notably shown with a bit of an edge, as solemn here as in the 90s Peter David run or even the more current (at the time of Justice’s release) Will Pfeifer run.
Also portrayed as a serious threat is Aquaman’s foe Black Manta, who is written to embody the period where the character held pro-black, Pan-African ideologies. A character who could be written as an extremely cartoony entity is instead given gravitas and a legitimate reason to herd a group of people into the dream cities that are built for humanity.
Similarly, the sub plot of Green Lantern seems to comment on many of the character damaging storylines that the at the time recently ressurrected Hal Jordan was put through in the 90s. These included Emerald Twilight and Zero Hour, in which he went insane, slaughtered the Green Lantern Corps, became the powerful villain Parallax, and attempted to recreate the world in his own image.
Other heroes, however, do not get much characterization outside of the fights, though the ignorance of Metamorpho, the relationship between Green Arrow and Black Canary, as well as the rivalry between Plastic Man and Elongated Man are nice touches that differentiate them from the plethora of other heroes.
One of the other highlighted villains that stands out far more than she should is Wonder Woman’s arch nemesis, The Cheetah. Though based off of the Golden Age/Super Friends version of the character, who was simply a socialite named Priscilla Rich who dressed in a cat suit, this version undergoes a mystical ceremony that seemingly imbues her with power to fight Wonder Woman. This is similar to the Barbara Minerva version of the Cheetah, who, after being given strength and speed by an African nature god, became a werecheetah. This ability to take later elements that improved characters is a plus, especially when dealing certain characters who could easily seem outdated.
As well thought out and seemingly foolproof as every layer of the villains’ scheme is, the story illustrates organically how their hubris and inability to form community leads to their downfall. Thus, their eventual failures do not seem last minute.
The Alex Ross is as impressive as ever, especially in showcasing not only the majesty of the Justice League, but also the immense threat of the Legion of Doom’s machinations. Towards the climax of the story, to shield themselves from Braniac and Dr. Sivana’s “Mr. Mind” mind control worms, the Justice League don suits of armor, many of which are constructed from the bodies of Will Magnus’s Metal Men. The armors are positively astounding.
Another highlight from the art is seeing not only the great fights of comic books done realistically, but also the damage and destruction inherit in such conflict.
Unfortunately, the art, as well as the immense cast of the book, are not without their problems. The biggest of the former is that some of the later fights, featuring the Justice League, the Teen Titans, the Doom Patrol, the Metal Men, and others against the Legion of Doom, can become very chaotic. While obviously making sense, the realistic art makes things seem even more cluttered than they normally would.
Another side effect of drawing some of the more classic costumes so realistically is that, honestly, the truth of how lame some of the designs are becomes very apparent. For instance, Sinestro is not only drawn with his Silver Age “elf costume”, but also features the giant forehead he was drawn with in that era that makes him look like an evil and vaguely homosexual Vincent Price.
As cool as Ross and Kreuger try to make the Priscilla Rich Cheetah out to be, she’s still just a woman in a cat costume, coming off as a poor man’s substitute for the absent Catwoman. Though she can somehow fight Wonder Woman due to the mystical nature of her ceremony, she never showcases any type of strength feats that make this logical. The Barbara Minerva Cheetah that appeared after Crisis on Infinite Earths not only had great speed like her namesake, but also the visible strength to fight Wonder Woman and pull her Lasso of Truth to a tug of war standstill. The ease that a poisoned Wonder Woman defeats Priscilla with also highlights the vain nature of trying to make her out to be a threat.
Another villain that can’t escape the lame train is Captain Cold. Taking more from the Silver Age, where Cold hadn’t been characterized too far beyond being a simple mook that robbed banks, he comes off not only as a dork in a dumb costume, but also a complete loser and wimp who is absolutely NO threat to The Flash.
One complaint about the armor that the Justice league gets is the seeming lack of effort put into some of the designs. Some designs are great such as Green Lantern’s Iron Knight armor (evoking Kingdom Come Green Lantern). Others, such as Superman’s, just seem lazy compared to the others, simply covering the characters with metal and maybe adding their particular logo or emblem.
All in all, however, Justice is an absolute treat for fans of the DC Universe, people who grew up watching the Superfriends cartoons, average comic book fans, or simply people who want to see some great science fiction art.
- The art, as well as many of the original designs, are amazing and realistic
- The spotlighted characters are made to feel like characters, as well as subtly address several of the storylines that they’ve experienced throughout the years
- Several underrated villains are given the chance to shine, and made out to be real threats
- The more classic interpretations of characters, when juxtaposed with more modern sensibilities, gives the book a timeless feel
- Some villains come off as more lame than threatening, namely with the realistic art showing their outdated costumes
- Some of the fights toward the end become cluttered and hard to follow
- Some characters become lost in the shuffle amongst the miasma of different superheroes
Final Grade: A-