Justice League #1: Scott Snyder’s rebirth is complete
Image credit: Jim Cheung and Laura Martin
Scott Snyder at last takes the reins of Justice League this week, and his opening strike is true and strong. Joined by some of comics’ greatest champions—penciler Jim Cheung, inker Mark Morales, colorist Tomeu Morey, and letterer Tom Napolitano, Snyder has all of the right ingredients for success. And while those creators deserve their own accolades, I feel that Snyder deserves some special attention on this particular occasion.
It would be easy to contrast Snyder’s earliest DC writing with Justice League and conclude that he is suddenly reinventing himself, but the change has been gradual. In truth, the earnestness of his first two arcs on Batman never faded, but he did begin making room for levity—a disguised Bruce Wayne flipping off the Red Hood in Zero Year, for example. Eventually, the absurd began creeping in, with the post-Endgame status quo including Jim Gordon in a robobatbunny suit, and All-Star Batman giving a radically different flavor to Snyder’s perspective on the Dark Knight.
As the levity and absurdity have increased, I have most times felt as though they clashed with Snyder’s earnestness—not because such things are inherently at odds, but rather because Snyder had trouble passing them off as complimentary components of the same mind. It was often difficult for me to determine what the books were supposed to be, because they were making competing implications about themselves. This confusion was writ especially large in the pages of Metal, and I began to long for the days when Snyder “stuck to what he was good at.”
But practice makes perfect, and last month’s No Justice showed convincingly that Snyder’s refusal to abandon these newer dimensions had paid off. Humor—and there was plenty—no longer seemed staple on, instead arising organically from the characters and situations presented. When it was time to “get serious” and take on the big threats, the humor never undermined the gravity of the heroes’ plight—but neither did it entirely recede. Snyder succeeded in No Justice where he had come up short (arguably) since Superheavy.
And it all leads here, to a place where heroes of myth form a super team called The Justice League, and their murderous foes a Legion of Doom. Superheroes have ever been a union of the earnest and the absurd, even if we forgot somewhere along the way. Snyder has recognized this in his work for several years, but now, at last, he has found his place in the heart of that union and given us this book to prove it.
So what’s changed? More than anything else, it’s character and context.
Just be yourself
The characters here are written remarkably well, even as only a few of them get any prolonged focus. Snyder captures their personalities, and it is out of this that both the humorous and the heavy spring organically. Barry Allen can be himself and poke fun at Batman; J’onn J’onzz can float above the rooftop of the world, in somber contemplation of threats new and long gone. Snyder respects these characters and allows them to respond to his story, rather than wielding them as tools to create a particular tone, and that makes all the difference in the world. Snyder isn’t making us laugh—Barry is. Snyder isn’t bursting our hearts—J’onn is. Of course, Snyder is doing those things—but it is by choosing the right ingredients instead of trying to arbitrarily transmute the wrong ones.
Your place in the world
The scope of Justice League’s conflict seems both enormous and intimate, with the foreboding mystery of an object—one outside of time—hurtling toward Earth; and, with Lex Luthor and his Legion gleefully awaiting its arrival while bludgeoning Vandal Savage with a doorknob. But in both cases, the conflict is not shouting—it isn’t demanding our attention to the exclusion of our heroes. The progression of the plot demands that we take it seriously, but we’re still given time to absorb the characters along the way, before things come to a head. Neither is the conflict—nor the tone of the story—bizarre, so our minds don’t get stuck expecting oddity for oddity’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with that, but some of Snyder’s misses in the past few years seemed to want it both ways—a forced interpolation of Batman ‘66 kook and Dark Knight gravity.
Because the humor arises not from an absurd context, but rather from characters, we subconsciously attribute silly behavior to the characters exhibiting it, rather than to the story itself. And so when things take a much more serious turn, it does not feel like a tonal shift or an on-the-fly rejiggering of what the story is supposed to be. In the absence of that shock, it is possible both to enjoy the funny bits while we have them, and sink fully into the sorrow and terror that gradually rise to replace them.
Scott Snyder has enjoyed much success in his career. His work with Batman—both before and during The New 52—was exceptional, and even those stories that I did not personally enjoy nevertheless saw wide success among fans. But here in Justice League, we have Snyder’s most impressive accomplishment to date: at the height of success, he has reinvented himself—not by throwing out what he was and replacing it with something else, but rather by expanding and adding and adapting.
DC Rebirth kicked off two years ago, and had a good year across much of DC’s line. But Justice League was a disappointment, and a harbinger of the stagnation that has crept into a number of books. But rebirth has come at last to Justice League, because rebirth has come to Scott Snyder.
This article contains an excerpt from my review for Justice League #1, published by Batman News. Some portions have been edited to provide a more complete reading experience.