The world of super hero comic books have a serious problem. See, when you have characters that have been passed from creator to creator for over half a century it hard to expect anyone to keep track of all the stories told. However, it’s important that characters act within character and that long term fans feel rewarded. It’s also important to avoid telling the same story over and over again. Different comic book publishing houses have come up with various ways to deal with this issue. Marvel tend to work on a status quo system, where it’s assumed that most heroes have a general status quo outside of their current stories and only occasionally, normally with big event storylines, is the status quo changed but DC Comics like to go about it a different way. DC have a reboot cycle. This means that the universe as a whole reboots every couple of years so that characters have a chance to grow and change, in theory, whilst also giving newer fans a chance of following the current continuity. As we’re currently on the verge of a new reboot cycle it’s time to take a look back at the last one.
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In 2011 DC Comics realised it was time to press the big red button to restart their universe. In the past they had done similar things, sanding off the rough edges of their universe, but this time they would put every book back to issue one. New origins. New villains. New horizons. They decided to launch the new universe off the back of a huge The Flash event called ‘Flashpoint’ which involved alternate earths and time travel. The event saw great success under writer Geoff Johns. Therefore the corporate masters decided that if Johns could make The Flash, a fairly successful character, one of the bestselling DC characters at the time then he’d be able to make the Justice League, already the bestselling DC team at the time, the bestselling book full stop. The amazing thing was, they weren’t wrong.
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The first Justice League arc, Origin, is a retelling of the founding of the Justice League as the characters of The Flash, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Cyborg unite for the first time to fight Darkseid. It’s a brilliant piece that manages to balance each character, with everyone getting their own moment to shine. The dialogue is full of Whedon-esque quips and reference for both hardcore and casual fans. For me at least, this is an almost perfect arc which achieves all its goals spot on, and I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who feels this way. The critical reception for Justice League Origin was phenomenal.
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The arc saw positive ratings from many reviewers at the time, including IGN and Complex Magazine. If you look now on websites such as Amazon and Goodreads you will find meta-scores of around 4/5 and 8/10 which, while not perfect, shows a very positive reaction to the book. However, the most notable statistic comes from Diamond Comics sales as in September 2011 the first issue of Johns’ Justice League didn’t even manage to place in the top ten sales for that month while in October it is the number one most sold book. This trend continues, bested only by Scott Snyder’s Batman run, throughout the first arc of the book, proving the strength of the series. But it is worth pointing out that there are many reasons why the arc doesn’t achieve full positive ratings.
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The arc moves with incredible pace, meaning that while the characters get a fairly balanced amount of time in the spotlight that time is still very short. The book relied upon readers at least having a passing familiarity with Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and The Flash, an easy task with the first two but a much taller order with the latter duo. It was very much marketed as a jumping on point and it’s easy to see that for some people that got lost towards the end of the arc. I feel that as long as the reader is either fairly accepting of the fact that they don’t know everything or if they are willing to do a little googling then they should be okay, but that defence holds little water for some. Whether the book deserves a place up in the halls of comic book Valhalla is a point of discussion for another time but I feel it can be agreed that the book left a big impact on the superhero comic book industry.
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Johns’ work on Justice League has continued to this day and is considered by many to be some of the greatest work ever done on the series. His ability, long with artist Jim Lee’s, to reinvent characters has lead the DC Universe to their new ‘Rebirth’ reboot event which will take a lot of inspiration from Johns work including his run on Justice League. The balanced team dynamic is one that many super team books have been striving for and so since the release of Origin I feel many creators have taken note of Johns’ techniques. The influence can be seen on everything from certain Avengers runs right out to the some indie titles. Next week we’ll be looking at the darker side of the New 52 reboot with Batman The Court of Owls.
…That was this week’s Comic History 101!!! Check back on Friday for a brand new Covert Coot article!!!