REVIEW – Justice League: Cry For Justice #1

Your soundtrack for today is Mojave 3 – Ask Me Tomorrow and Van Morrison – Moondance.

Cry For Justice #1 cover

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Mauro Cascioli

Publisher: DC Comics

Few comics have had such a tumultuous publishing history in recent years as James Robinson’s Justice League spinoff, Cry for Justice. Originally intended to be an ongoing series spinning out of the events of Final Crisis, the book has seen numerous delays, reported cast changes, and a reduction to a miniseries. For a book that at one point seemed central to DC’s line and served as one of the reasons Dwayne McDuffie’s plans for his Justice League of America run fell apart, it has been oddly marginalized, arriving to comic book shops with much less attention than it received months ago upon its original announcement. Setting aside all that controversy, however, the question is this: is the book equal to its purpose of giving as an alternate take on the Justice League?

Robinson’s first issue is entirely setup. There’s nothing else. It opens on a heated discussion between Justice League members, in which Green Lantern Hal Jordan admonishes his fellow Leaguers for forgetting the “Justice” element to their name in the wake of several dead allies. Stating his plan to form his own corps, he leaves with Green Arrow in tow. A series of vignettes follows, introducing semi-retired Atom Ray Palmer, former Starman Mikaal Tomas, and Congorilla as each searches for answers to personal tragedies. Each scene ends with a character shouting some equivalent of the word “justice” in a staggeringly literal translation of the book’s title. And that is the book.

This level of decompression wouldn’t even be excusable in an ongoing series, but it’s downright galling that a full issue, a seventh of this series, has ended without the entire team having been gathered. We’ve only been introduced to half of the team on the book’s two covers! The closest thing to a fully rendered scene in the book is the Justice League’s spat, but the moment feels engendered to make us feel wonderment at Hal Jordan’s ego. Granted, this isn’t new for the character, and it’s actually a nicely considered branch of the same instincts that led him to attempt to rebuild the destroyed Coast City with his ring, turn on the Green Lantern Corps, and become the villainous Parallax. And if Geoff Johns hadn’t written that characterization off as the influence of a yellow fear bug, this issue might be the starting point of a compelling, long-term downward arc for the character. As it stands, it’s just more of Officer Hal Jordan: Embittered Small Town Cop, the alienating version of him that readers have been bullied into supporting for nearly five years now. For the record, I prefer Darwyn Cooke’s portrayal of him as a morally troubled idealist in The New Frontier; Hal Jordan’s always been hardheaded and quite frankly dumb as hell, so the level of hopefulness, self-questioning, and occasional sweetness that Cooke developed made the character both more palatable and more complicated. This issue makes it clear that instead we’re back to the paling nostalgia of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow teamups, with Arrow totally disregarding his wife, Justice League chairwoman Black Canary, to follow his friend on another Tom and Huck adventure. For a couple of young, reckless characters outraged at the iniquity of life, this would be understandable, but there’s something depressing about seeing middle-aged men saddle up to take on the world. After the complex, muted tones of bitterness and mourning found in Peter Tomasi’s Lantern/Arrow scene in the Final Crisis: Requiem one-shot, this feels like regression.

The rest of the book is a non sequitur. The Atoms, Ray Palmer and Ryan Choi, raid Killer Moth’s hideout (note to DC: more Killer Moth. That’s not sarcasm. Put him in any book I’m currently not reading, and I will buy it), which gives us some dueling narration of the Superman/Batman variety, in which the Atoms express their reverence for one another; there’s some charm in it, but it’s overdone. The narration turns omniscient and deeply purple for the Congorilla and Mikaal Tomas scenes as the latter third of the book strains towards grandiosity. The issue manages to be too minimal and too overwrought at once. Even its thesis of “Justice” is left unexplored, relegated to a few shouts intended to be elemental but executed superficially, a soundbite in a 24-hour news cycle.

Mauro Cascioli’s art is an appealing take on the hyper-realistic style of which Marvel in particular is fond, an aesthetic that tends to irritate me. Cascioli tempers the feigned maturity common to this style with heavily detailed coloring and shading that lend a great deal of texture to the book – some images have an almost sketchline quality to them that produces a satisfying roughness to offset their exaggerated seriousness and stiffness. He revels in this to the point of excess, however. In trying to convince us of the book’s mood, he has a tendency to heavily shadow faces or surround characters with darkness or odd, glowing auras in would-be dramatic moments, and combined with a preponderence of upward-directed camera angles, the effect is melodramatic. There’s an energetic fight montage when the Atoms are introduced, and some interesting if meandering pages of first-person perspective during the Mikaal Tomas scene, but the rest of the book fluctuates between excessive closeups on rigidly determined facial expressions and wide shots that serve more to unnecessarily lengthen scenes than to convince us of the emotion therein. It’s an unfortunately appropriate match for the writing, as it aches for a level of gravity that’s just not found in the sparse content of the book. Perhaps when the entire series comes together it’ll be a more provocative, complicated read, but as it stands, it’s not even a full issue.

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