Working on the Justice League has always been a heavy is the head that wears the crown type of deal for it’s creators. When you look back at Justice League teams in the modern age, most of the runs are marked by mixed reactions from it’s fans. From the Justice League Detroit days up to our current multi-title A-List creator incarnations post New 52, the title has a hard time satisfying it’s readership. That’s not always the case though, Mark Waid’s time on the book with this issues creator Bryan Hitch is mostly beloved, the Demattis, Giffen & Maguire version of the concept is a rightfully lauded high point and perhaps more paramount then any of those is Grant Morrison’s relaunch and long stint on the title with artist Howard Porter. On the debut of Bryan Hitch’s Justice League of America, it is most successful when it’s hearkening back to those moments from the Morrison/Porter run and it manages to get there more often than not.
Around the turn of the century following the industries financial crash, there was a handful of creators that permanently altered modern superhero comics by doing a take that was smart, self aware, modern and thoughtful. They were comics that were taking in what was happening from the world outside while being equal parts influenced from comics past and other media. You know the list; Busiek & Anderson on Astro City, Ellis & Cassady on Planetary, Bendis & Bagley on Ultimate Spiderman ect It was a great time of innovation and refinement and those books DNA are inescapable across comics in 2015. On his War Rocket Ajax Podcast, co-host Chris Sims made the astute observation of how Morrison’s & Howard Porters JLA was kind of the precursor to that shift in a subtle way. The JLA run has a strange place in history, it was a hit book and it’s beloved by Morrison fans still, but it rarely part of the conversation when we talk about your Authorities or your Ultimates. That’s probably because it wasn’t quite as in your face about what it was as some of those books were, while it’s very Morrison it’s ultimately still a traditional superhero comic. That’s why it’s a precursor, but it’s importance can’t be overstated and it’s influence is felt all over this incarnation of the Justice League Concept.
The aforementioned Authority & The Ultimates are perhaps two of the most influential comics of their time period as it’s accepted conventional wisdom that those books distinctly altered team superhero comics forever. It’s probably no coincidence that Bryan Hitch was the artist on both those books as his intricate detail in epic scope & dynamic sequencing made him the most important artist of that period. We always hear series writers Warren Ellis & Mark Millar getting praised for making “wide screen” superhero comics and to be fair, the remainder of their output has bore that out, but it’s criminal to not give Hitch a good portion of the credit for what he did on those series. If lightning strikes the same place twice, there’s a reason. Sadly, Hitch’s inability to continue creating his prolific and detailed art on schedule would prove to be his Achilles heel for much of his career afterwards. There’s the failed relaunch of the main Fantastic Four book with Millar, the Age Of Ultron Marvel event that was years in the making and Hitch still couldn’t finish, the non starter Image series Americas Got Powers & Real Hero’s. You can’t totally blame the guy; when you get to the top of that mountain not once but twice, where do you go from there?
The relaunch of Justice League Of America is perhaps the most interesting work I’ve seen from Hitch in quite some time but it’s for entirely different reasons then what you’d expect, that chiefly being that the quality of his writing is the books biggest strength. Justice League of America #1 is a complex & multi-layered debut that introduces a unique concept as the challenge to the Justice League. It’s highly entertaining, thoughtful & will leave you wanting more despite it being twice the size of your standard superhero comic. It’s an ambitious attempt at the conceit of the property in addition to the DC multiverse that’s rewarding with a genuinely interesting and unexpected story that can sustain multiple readings. At times, Hitch’s art is incredible. When you see his large double page spreads of the earth blowing up in space from the perspective of the moon or Parasite slamming his fist on the ground while holding Superman & Wonder Woman in a clenched fist, it’s awe inspiring. In the smaller panels Hitch struggles, the anatomy can be off to the point of distraction, the characters can be stiff and the acting generic. It’s flaws almost ruin the book but there is enough great in both the art and story to make up for some of it’s shortcomings.
While Hitch would probably benefit in collaborating with another artist filling in his layouts ala Frank Miller & Klaus Janson in the end this comic is pretty great all around and feels like it’s worth investing in. Outside of the flaw in some of its art, it’s hard to call Justice League Of America #1 anything besides a success. It creates the type of high IQ epic JLA story that Morrison relaunched the title with. Much like in Hitch’s Authority & The Ultimates, the spirit of that run is all over this, in a lot of ways even more so. Can Hitch climb the mountain one more time? It’s steeper then ever this time around but this is a pretty good start.