Required Reading: Justice
There’s a scene about halfway through DC Comics’ limited series Justice that really captures the innocent, morally unambiguous Silver Age spirit of the entire series: Green Lantern Hal Jordan is brawling with his arch-nemesis Sinestro as the world is falling apart all around them. Jordan is pummeling Sinestro over and over, finally knocking the pink-skinned baddie to the ground. Jordan grabs Sinestro by his throat, ready to kill his rival with a blow. “Fine, Jordan,” Sinestro seethes, “have your vengeance.” Jordan pauses, seemingly realizing he was on the edge of going too far, then knocks Sinestro out with a quick punch to the jaw. He stands up, composes himself. “This isn’t vengeance, Sinestro,” Jordan says. “It’s justice.”
Justice was a 12-issue limited series written by Jim Krueger with art by superstar Alex Ross and pencils by Doug Braithwaite that featured the entire Justice League of America in an all-out war against the entire Legion of Doom in a beautiful and inspiring Silver Age homage to the innocent and bright-eyed comics of yesteryear. Original published in individual issues from 2005 to 2007, Justice was just released in a complete paperback collection this year on June 19, and anybody who read and loved Ross’ and Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come mini-series would be remiss in skipping out on this incredible labor of love that is not only one of the best limited series in recent memory, but also one of the best comic stories ever told.
It begins with a nightmare. The world falls under nuclear attack, and try as they might the superheroes comprising the Justice League of America are unable to stop or to save anybody. Each hero is killed off in the attacks along with the human race, as Superman is left alone, powerless to do anything shed a tear in absolute helplessness and fly into space leaving mankind to its inevitable doom. One by one, the criminal supervillains of earth awake from this shared nightmare, shaken to their very core. In their fear, they turn to Lex Luthor, who has also shared this nightmare – and he has a plan to make sure that what they all saw in their dreams never becomes reality.
Lex Luthor and the Legion of Doom are going to save the world.
What follows is an incredibly well-written piece of superhero literature (that’s right, dear reader, literature) that has enough twists and turns to keep any reader pinned to their seat until they finish the entire book. It’s that good. The JLA is rightfully confused by formerly evil supervillains helping people in need in preparation for the impending doomsday. Using the black-ball like utopias that float under the sea or in the sky, created by Superman arch-nemesis Brainiac, the Legion of Doom goes about healing the sick and helping the poor with their significant powers and then shipping them off into these new perfect cities in the sky (or sea) to protect from the coming nuclear fallout. While all this do-gooding is going on, however, Batman has stumbled on to some sinister plot thanks to an enigmatic tip from The Riddler. By the time Batman figures out what is going on, the supervillains have already begun taking out the Justice League of America one member at a time. Think JLA: Tower of Babel or Identity Crisis, but on a scale that effects every member of the JLA. It seems the baddies, believing that because the superheroes are unable to save humanity from the coming apocalypse, have pre-emptively decided to get rid of the good guys so they can go about their efforts to save the world. If it seems twisted, it’s because it is twisted. Luthor and Co. feel betrayed by what these heroes will do – or be unable to do – when the end is upon us, and in their own twisted way, they truly believe what they are doing is for the best of mankind. And the fact that they get to nearly kill their good-hearted nemeses is an added pleasure.
Batman and Alfred are trapped in the Batcave after it’s overrun by Poison Ivy’s plants. Wonder Woman is viciously attacked by The Cheetah, whose claws have been dipped in Heracles’ Lament – a poison that is slowly turning Wonder Woman back to stone. Aquaman is kidnapped by Black Manta and operated on by Brainiac. Superman is mercilessly beaten by Solomon Grundy, Metallo, Parasite, and Bizarro. Sinestro uses a Boom Tube on Hal Jordan, transporting the Green Lantern to an unknown sector of space that is blanketed in pitch-blackness. One by one, our superheroes are taken out and beaten by enemies that have gotten ahold of not only their true identities, but their deepest weakness as well.
The best part of Justice is seeing our heroes beaten to the very depths of defeat, only to watch them rise and fight the good fight in all of their glory. They work together to get to the bottom of this great mystery while taking on the malevolent forces of darkness in an onslaught that is the very definition of the word EPIC. They literally don armor – thanks to the Metal Men and Dr. Magnus (I told you every Justice League of America member and friend was in this series!) – and battle their opponents to save the world not only from the impending nuclear disaster (which happens to be Brainiac’s plan all-along) but to save the Legion of Doom from themselves, and they do so with such honor and high regard for life that the only way to truly describe it is as beautiful. These are the heroes we grew up believing in, the heroes we wanted to be when we grew up. These are the values we grew up believing in because we read comic books, and they are the values we stick to when the world around continues to fall apart and go the wrong way. Justice is by its very nature inspiring. And Jim Krueger’s elegant writing only adds to that. The characters – good and bad – are real. The story is deep and layered and a complete blast from start to finish. The art is beyond description – if Krueger’s writing makes the characters real, then Ross’ art is the equivalent of a reporter taking photos as this epic confrontation between good and evil plays out. Braithwaite’s drawings are incredible, and Ross’ watercolors only add to their perfection.
Justice is a graphic novel collection that every comics fan should read at least once. It’s that vital, that important to superhero mythology. If comics and superheroes are our modern myths – our own versions of Greek, Roman, Norse, etc. mythology – then Justice is as close to being our Iliad or our Ragnarok as any other comics series has gotten. And the fact that it is done in true Silver Age fashion only adds to its legend.