I had the opportunity to see a special fan screening of Justice League last night (the Monday before the official release). I ended up having to stand in line for 3 hours to do it, get scanned by security (with actually metal detector wands), and turn off my phone (even though the screen wanted you to scan a Snapchat code). Once the movie started I quickly forgot about the hassle of actually getting to my seat.
First, I want to talk about expectations and hype. Mine were truly low. I’ve seen all the DCEU movies, watched all the JL trailers, and I was not expecting a Wonder Woman type of hit. As much as I enjoy Snyder’s Superman, I can’t say the previous Superman films were examples of great film. And I don’t want to talk about Suicide Squad, because Folding Ideas has done it better than I could. After everything we’ve seen, I expected Justice League to be a mess of grimdark origins that barely formed a cohesive plot.
So, watching the movie I felt my expectations constantly rising.
Spoiler-filled analysis from the point of view of one who reads comics, not who reviews movies.
This article originally ran on medium.com and was reposted here with the permission of Thaddeus Howze
For the record. I hate writing reviews. Why? Because criticism is easy. Any idiot can sit in a theater and have an opinion. Any art critic can, with the weight of their degree in art literacy, define why a thing fails to deliver whatever THEY think it should deliver to an “audience.” As a writer who struggles to find that proper beat to put a story to while I am writing it, I am always reminded movies are a special breed of writing.
Movies are a collaboration. They are a story written by at least one person, massaged by two or three other people, edited by another person before being turned into a script which gets changed daily. As the shots are reviewed and then taken from different angles, all that work is gathered together and digitally enhanced, cinematic effects added, CGI constructs placed and then this beast is edited down to fit a designated time pattern.
This is one of the most important parts of a movie’s creation: No matter what vision a director might have, arbitrary decisions made as to what stays in and what goes out are often made by executives whose reasons for doing what they do are completely their own but presumably were meant to make the film more “profitable,” based on some movie-making algorithm only they understand.
After researching the Adventures of Superman series questions for several hours everyday for five days I finally stumbled upon a book called Flights of Fantasy: The Unauthorized but True Story of Radio & TV’s Adventures of Superman, which I decided to buy on the hope of finding the answers to the two questions. Fortunately, I did.
2 weeks ago, DC began an ambitious experiment that spans their entire line of comic books. DC has set aside existing continuity to begin a new continuity that’s similar but different to the prior one that’s existed for almost 80 years. They’re accomplishing this starting with the ending of the summer event Flashpoint, along with the first book in the new continuity, Justice League #1. Many, but not all of our familiar heroes are in this new continuity, but their histories are different, relationships changed. During the course of September, DC will be releasing 52 #1 issues. Every book in their lineup has been reset to #1. Each will help establish the new universe that’s spun out of the events of Flashpoint.
Personally, I’m a lapsed DC Comics reader. I read many of their books (especially Superman, Green Lantern, and Flash) up until early last year. As such, my knowledge of the old universe runs up to the start of Brightest Day. I haven’t read Flashpoint, but I know the premise that The Flash mysteriously ended up on a parallel Earth, and somehow after unraveling the mystery of that other Earth, this new continuity was created. Due to logistics, I don’t receive the new comics on Wednesday, as many comic fans do, so my posts here discussing the new reveals lags a bit behind what is currently known. At this point, I’ve read Justice League #1 and Action Comics #1. After the information we learned in Justice League, I knew my priority had to be to read the first Superman book that came out.
Justice League gives us our first peek at this new world, and it does so with a flashback. The entire issue takes place 5 years prior to the present. It shows us Batman and Green Lantern meeting for the first time, and alludes to some of the changes this new world brings.
Batman and his prey are being chased by Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), and it’s clear they view him as an enemy. The criminal Batman is chasing has superhuman abilities, and soon attracts Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). Green Lantern came to investigate an “unauthorized extraterrestrial”, which turns out to be the criminal Batman is chasing, who reveals himself to be somehow connected to Darkseid. He plants a Mother Box and escapes in an explosion, which potentially was some sort of new violent Boom Tube. After a brief stop to introduce Vic Stone, the duo arrive in Metropolis, and the issue ends with Superman appearing.
So from this, we see that superheroes are still new on the scene. Batman clearly hasn’t developed a positive relationship with the GCPD, and for some reason even Green Lantern isn’t known as a hero to the GCPD. The heroes haven’t even met and teamed up, it seems like the next few issues will deal with origin stories and the initial formation of the Justice League. The criminal they were chasing establishes that the Fourth World and New Gods are a factor here. In the old continuity, they’d died in 2007’s and 2008’s events Death of the New Gods and Final Crisis. It’s unclear if they’re still dead in the new continuity, as this criminal could have been a non-New God alien that worships Darkseid and has a piece of leftover Fourth World tech in his Mother Box.
The story jumps to Vic Stone, high school football star. The name indicates this fellow is Cyborg, but he’s still fully human in the story so far. The story only devotes a couple of pages to him, but we learn he’s being scouted by several colleges and his father’s a barely-present workaholic. His father apparently is involved in studying the new superhuman menace. As we know his future role of Cyborg, there’s not too much new insight to the new world in his introduction, but he’s going to be a part of the new Justice League, which the old Cyborg wasn’t in the previous continuity. In the previous continuity, he was instead a member of the Teen Titans and later the Titans once they grew out of the “Teen” moniker.
After seeing the hostile treatment of the heroes in Justice League, when I received my comics from week 2 of the New 52, my first stop was Action Comics. This was because one of the ideas in Final Crisis was that each of DC’s parallel Earths had a Superman, and he was a key part of each universe. You could see this in some of the differences between New Earth and Earth 2. In Earth 2, he wasn’t a superhero, but instead a supervillain, and so the Justice League of that world was all evil, and the universe had the tendency for evil to triumph over good. So I sought some more information on this new world from the first Superman book I could read. And it definitely helps clarify things.
Action Comics #1 introduces us to a new Superman. This is a younger, angrier Superman who takes some pages out of Batman’s playbook. His powers seem weaker than the Superman in the old continuity, and this new Superman isn’t even capable of flight. I guess he’s back to just “leaping tall buildings in a single bound”. He roots out evil white collar criminals as well as your regular street criminal. This new Superman roughs up criminals and will scare them into confessing their crimes, decidedly more violently than Superman acted in the old continuity. This helps explain the way the authorities treated heroes in the Justice League issue. Superman is relatively new on the scene as well, and he is more of a violent vigilante than he was in the prior universe. Without the kind leadership that the older Superman provided, there’s no one providing a positive connection to the government in this new world. The story also introduces us to younger main characters. Clark, Lois, and Jimmy are all much younger than they were, and Clark isn’t an established journalist yet. So I expect our first month of #1 issues will give us similar glimpses into the early careers of many familiar and not-so-familiar heroes.
Overall, I’m very curious about this new universe. Part of me is not enthused by the decision to have the superheroes not on good terms with the police, as it comes off as an attempt to make this new world ‘dark and gritty’, which is a trope that’s been overused of late in all media. But the blank slate this universe offers has me excited by the possibilities that this offers long time comic book writers who are now freed from the previous status quo. I also appreciate the decision to add Cyborg to the Justice League as one of those changes, as more of the B-list heroes deserve to graduate up to the A-list.