Review: Justice by Alex Ross

by GregFahlgren

A in depth review of Alex Ross's classic graphic novel, JUSTICE!

The Justice League. DC’s greatest heroes, who individually or as a team have never failed in their quest to keep the world safe. But, what if someday, a crisis arrived that they couldn’t stop? What if, nobody how hard they tried, the world ended, and everyone died, and the League’s mere presence was the cause?

In Justice, Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, and Doug Braithwaite attempt to answer these questions in an epic and heart-pounding story of the Justice League under siege, threatened by a dark vision of the future driving their greatest villains to destroy them in order to do something no one ever thought they would: Save the world.

Credits

The Creators

First things first, let's make sure we all now who I'm talking about here. Firstly, the story was composed in collaboration between Alex Ross, who was also the main artist, and Jim Kruegar, who wrote the script. Pencils were done by Doug Braithwaite, lettering by Todd Klein, and the covers by Alex Ross. Everyone got it? Awesome, so let's get to the story.

Justice Cover by Alex Ross and Doug Braithwaite

Cover
Cover

The Story

Good vs Evil

The story, writing by Ross and Krueger, starts off with a terrifying vision of the world falling apart, and the Justice League helpless to stop it no matter how hard they try. Eventually, only Superman remains, watching helplessly as the Earth explodes, killing everything and everyone he ever fought for. This scene turns out to be a recurring dream, shared among the world’s greatest supervillains, among them Cheetah, Captain Cold, Toyman, and Black Manta, along with a host of others.

I don’t want to go into a full plot summary, because you all should REALLY read this book for yourselves. Essentially, the villains who received this dream decide that it is a vision of what is to come, and decided to come together to “save the world” from the Justice League, holding them responsible. But instead of starting a war they know they’ll lose, this new Legion of Doom, under the leadership of Brainiac, Lex Luthor, and Gorilla Grodd, set out into the world, curing the sick and wound, bringing life to deserts, bringing food to the hungry, and all that good stuff. Sounds great huh?

Well, it would have been great, but it was all a part of the plan to destroy the League. While they went on this PR campaign, the Riddler steals the League’s identities, and the Legion goes to work, setting up a series of hits on the League, which our heroes barely managed to survive. With their survival, the Legion decides to kidnap their loved ones and hold them hostage, using Brainiac’s mind control techniques to take control of their sidekicks, effectively using them as shields. The League, battered and wounded, slowly regroup for the fight of their lives, desperately trying to uncover the truth of all this and stop it before it’s too late.

 

The story is spread out across all members of the League, each one (or pairs or groups in some cases) lending their voices to the story. Depicting their trials, many facing personal, terrible hardships as the story progress, Justice also depicts the friendship between the League members, that friendship and comradely binding them together in a time of great crisis. Conversely, as their plans go awry, the Legion begins to fracture, our villains only working with each other because they have to.

Ross and Krueger use these two opposing mind sets to examine why the difference between heroes and villains, and why in these massive conflicts, the villains never manage to secure the final victory. The League stand together as friends with a common desire for justice, while the villains only think of themselves, and cannot form any kind of friendship with anyone. Thus, when it comes time to stand together, they only think of themselves, and their alliances fall apart.

Another theme that Ross and Krueger discuss throughout the book is the trust that people have put in these superheroes. Through Lex Luthor, Ross discusses how people have become dependent on these heroes, causing humanity to stop growing on its own. That’s why Luthor went along with Brainiac’s plan, so that humanity could be rid of these so called, “gods”. The villains even use this against the League, stating that with all their power, they’ve never done anything to “really” help people.

Luthor’s argument is not something new. Books like Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns, examine superheroes and their role in our society, asking if they are really necessary. Justice continues this discussion from both sides, but with a simple difference. In the end, the heroes win, and the world is filled with new hope, not really answering the question, but providing new insight to the problem that generates it.

The story itself, when you strip away the subtext, is still incredible. So many twists and turns, defeats and victories, every action meaning something. The battles, which are incredible in size and scope, tell stories of themselves, the characters fighting them shown in their purist forms, each acting according to his or her beliefs. The ending is one of the most exciting final sequences I’ve ever seen in a comic book, answering many of the questions posed at the beginning, while asking a few new ones, giving us all something new to think about.

Superman hits Batman

Superman Punch
Superman Punch

The Joker

A Small Aside

One of the more interesting parts of the story, hence why I’m writing a small sub-topic, is The Joker’s involvement. As one of DC’s biggest and most dangerous villains, he would be a no brainer to include in the Legion of Doom right? Well, apparently Brainiac didn’t think so, his chaotic and unpredictable nature making it impossible for the android to trust him to go along with the plan. Now, he’s not exactly wrong, Joker’s always been a wild card.  But, one thing I’ve seen with the Joker over the years is that when villains include him in the plans, he will do everything he can to make the plan succeed. His actions may be insane, and even dangerous to his allies, but when he’s asked to join up, he’ll fight for the cause.

By not including him, Brainiac forced the Joker to take matters into his own hands. Throughout the book, there are small glimpses of the Clown Prince of Crime, mostly just staying in the background. That was until the final battle is under way, the League and Legion clashing in full scale war, the Joker merrily moved about, singing and laughing. Eventually, right at the critical moment, he set off hundreds of bombs, destroying the city and disrupting Brainiac’s plans, laughing the whole time. His involvement, though not exactly helping the League, hastened the Legion’s downfall.

And there in lines the truth of the matter. Joker would have played along with the Legion if they had asked him to join. When he wasn’t invited, the Joker decided that he wanted to play anyway, disrupting their plans out of spite. The best illustration of this in my mind was at the end of Infinite Crisis. He and Joker were set to kill Alexander Luthor Junior, when Lex looks down at his doppelganger and says, “You want to know the mistake you made? You didn’t allow the Joker to come out and play.”

I know it’s weird to do a short character study of someone who was barely in the book, but it is a brilliant examination of the Joker’s role in the DC universe. In short, he’s the wild card, the thing that can’t be controlled, and the character that you can never predict when he’s going to pop up and bring the chaos he revels in.

Battle

Battle
Battle

The Art

Gorgeous Beyond Description

As with most comic books/graphic novels, the story is only half of what makes this book amazing. Alex Ross, who in my opinion is one of the greatest artists in the history of the medium, does some of his best work in Justice. Penciler Doug Braithwaite adds to the equation, the two creating some of the spectacular visuals I’ve ever seen. There were a few splash pages that I would love to get a print for, just so I could stare at it for hours, and marvel at its awesomeness. The characters were drawn with detail, and when the colour was added it brought to life so realistically there were more than a few panels that stole my breath. The other side of that coin were the action sequences, every one nothing short of spectacular. Just looking at them again makes me marvel at how they were able to pull them off.

What’s even more amazing is how perfectly Ross and Braithwaite captured each character so accurately with every panel. Coupling their expressive, realistic depictions with Krueger and Ross’s writing, it didn’t take long for me to understand each character, who they are, and why they took the actions they did. Many of the scenes between the League members had such subtle pieces of storytelling that drive the reader deeper into these characters, making us care about what happens to every one of them. The lettering also adds to this, certain characters unique font styles adding to their overall feel, creating a more vibrant and distinctive world.

Besides a massive two-page splash before the climax of the book, my favourite pieces are the three portraits in the back of the book.  The first is of the League, the second of the Legion, and the third is of the League armoured up with the Metal Men for the book’s final battle. These portraits are phenomenal on their own, and a must have for comic book fans everywhere. 

Drawbacks

A Few but Noticeable

There weren’t many failings to Justice, but there were some minor things I didn’t like/thought could have been better. I would have liked more scenes with the League’s loved ones, conversing in their prison. Biggest one was Steve Trevor, who I wish there had been something with him and Wonder Woman (given, he hadn’t really been seen in a while in the main comics at the time).

Another part I found strange was Mera’s absence from the battles. Given how active she’s become over the last twenty years or so, I think  her staying out of the battle was not true to her character, especially since it was her son that was kidnapped. I can forgive this a little though, since the story was based on the Silver age incarnations of the characters, a time where I think we can agree didn’t treat many female characters well.

Finally, I wish there was more Black Canary and Wonder Woman. They were in there a lot, and they kicked some serious ass in this book, but I always feel like there should always be more of Diana and Dinah (that one was for you Gail Simone.)

Armoured Up

Armoured Up
Armoured Up

Conclusion

One of the Best

Bottom line, Justice is a PHENOMANAL read. The art is top-notch, among the best I’ve ever seen, Ross and Braithwaite truly on point throughout. The writing matches the art step-for-step, the combination of drama, action, and character driven emotion keeping the reader invested the whole way through,

I read the hardcover edition, which was a little difficult to read certain pages because of how the paper folds. Given a choice, I would love to get the Absolute Edition, the oversized hardcover the perfect way to enjoy Ross’s art. But really, in any form, Justice is one of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read, and is a must read for comic book fans of all ages.

Until next time, Happy Reading everyone!

Updated: 12/13/2015, GregFahlgren
 
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