JLA: Liberty and Justice
Writer: Paul Dini
Illustrator: Alex Ross
Published by DC Comics
Here we are: End of the Summer, end of reviewing these marvelous 10″ x 13″ Paul Dini and Alex Ross masterworks. This time it is The Justice League of America: Liberty and Justice. This is my favorite kind of comic adventure; a team book. I like a lot of action in a graphic adventure. There’s more bang for your buck with a group of legends overcoming even greater odds. That’s the stuff. I require, big doings by those wearing “the big boy pants”. It gets my heart racing.
I read Kingdom Come so I already knew Alex Ross could draw some team action beautifully. I had seen a bunch of Paul Dini Justice League adventures on the animated series on television. This is the internal dialogue in my head while I drove home with my newest and last purchase of this body of work. Man-o-man, I loves me some Justice League.
The story begins with a first person narrative by no less than…(drum roll please) J’onn J’onzz, The Martian Manhunter. An alien with a jackpot of powers. All the raw strength of Superman and speed and flight plus telepathy and shape changing. As lovely an alien man as you would ever hope to meet. I met him way back when The Silver Age was my childhood companion. He is also the sole survivor of his race whose extinction he witnessed at the hands of White Martians. Yes folks, Martians come in several decorator colors and their white ones are supremacists too. The Martian Manhunter is also one of the few beings that Superman fears. J’onn is always cool. He snuck into this country way back when by being teleported here by a scientist who suffered a heart attack. You would be shocked how often this happens. Despite all the well-documented heroics he is still regarded with distrust by humanity. He’s green and it isn’t easy being that. Still he strives to protect those of us on his adopted world. He’s a hero. It’s what he does.
He gets a telepathic message from Wonder Woman that The Justice League is needed. When The Pentagon comes hat in hand to The JLA, you know the whole damn planet is in for some major bad juju of Biblical proportions. This begins with what appears to be hundreds of deaths under mysterious circumstances in Africa. Martian Manhunter joins Wonder Woman and together they set about rounding up the rest of the team. From this moment on you see how masterfully Dini takes a bunch of individual characters and demonstrates what makes them the best super team in the world. You would think any group with both Superman and Batman in it wouldn’t really need anybody else. You already have all the power and brains in the world. This is The JLA though and it is also the classic Silver Age lineup. We also get Hal Jordan as The Green Lantern. Barry Allen as The Flash and in a book written before DC “speed-forced” him back to life. If you are into comics continuity porn, this book will put your panties in such a bunch, they will have their own gravity well but relax, it’s comics, okay? We also have Ray Palmer as The Atom. These are the characters that Dini grew up with as well and the love is there all right.
As a team of three, The Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter are sent to Africa to find out what killed all those people. When they get there they find the victims are in a death-like state but completely aware. A plague is suspected and the source soon found in a recently impacted meteor. It’s a good thing this group is just rife with scientists. Soon governments panic and try to firebomb the village affected by the alien virus. Martian Manhunter saves the people but is immersed in flame and is rescued in the nick of time by who else but Superman in an iconic moment. Soon The Flash and Aquaman are infected. Batman is on it and directing tactical response and delegating authority like a master field commander. The Atom, who shrinks down to a cellular level, goes inside The Flash and soon an anti-body for the virus is whipped up because Batman has already bought all the necessary equipment. That guy is prepared for everything. Soon the viral problem is fixed. It’s never that easy though.
Problem number two: humanity. People given a little motivation go emotionally viral and soon civil unrest sparks around the world. To quell the disturbance and stop the danger, other Leaguers are called up. It’s a chance to see Ross do all the other great characters created during The Silver Age (the early to mid 60’s). Green Arrow and Black Canary taking down militiamen holding hostages in a roadhouse. Plastic Man, Zatanna (mmmm… fishnets and top hat) and Captain Marvel are crowd controlling a riot. Red Tornado, Metamorpho and Elongated Man do the same somewhere else. One shining moment after another takes place and each image looks like it belongs in a museum of Super Heroics illustration. Even the smallest tragedy is prevented by the greatest among them, Superman.
The JLA now must build bridges back to common humanity. Using their powers on citizens instead of criminals creates a rift between the heroes and public opinion. The group goes to the UN to face this division head on. The body listens because it is Superman that addresses them but it turns out that it is Martian Manhunter in Superman’s form. He is eloquent and sincere. Every Silver Age member stands there including the ultra-cool Hawkman. As The JLA does it’s diplomatic best Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent proudly watch from the crowd.
Again, in this last book the super beings establish their ties to those of us they protect and that’s what makes the end so stirring. We come full circle as Martain Manhunter and Superman share a moment in space where just as in the cover on the very first book of this series, Superman and the only other guy with a commonality to him gaze lovingly down on the planet and the rest of us. They feel the fragility of our species and reaffirm their commitment to protecting all of us. Nothing but nothing gets better than that. Ever. Thank you Paul Dini and Alex Ross for carving this labor of love deep into my comics reading heart.
PS-I didn’t buy JLA:Secret Origins because it really wasn’t a story but a nicely done rehash of how many of these characters started out. It’s still a good book to have but not really applicable to this column.
Next Week: It’s open kimono time as bad comics get called down for exposing their shortcomings and goings.
by Bill Hilburn