JLA: Year One
by Mark Waid, Brian
Augustyn & Barry Kitson
(DC Comics, 1998;
collected edition, 1999)

The Justice League of America is one of comicdom's most revered superhero teams. Its members are (generally, depending on when you read it) some of the bravest and boldest of the DC universe, and the teamwork is always top notch. But it wasn't always so....

In its ongoing effort to retrofit its past, DC has taken a new look at the origins of the JLA. And Year One, which ran first as a 12-issue maxiseries in 1998 before being collected in one hefty volume, is a perfect tale to redefine the team. In this new look at history, the original JLA membership was Green Lantern (Hal Jordan, of course), the Flash (Barry Allen), Aquaman, Black Canary and the Martian Manhunter. And, in those early days of teamwork when an alien invasion first drew them together, they didn't fit together as seamlessly as one might think.

GL is arrogant and eager to steal the spotlight. Allen is quieter, more uncertain, but steadier. Aquaman, newly acquainted with the surface world, is having a hard time adapting to the culture, speaking too softly (sounds carry differently in a fluid environment) and unsure why he's being called a superhero in the first place. Black Canary, daughter of the original Justice Society version, has been raised on stories of the JSA and is quick to point out the JLA's comparative shortcomings. Likewise, she has the unenviable chore of being the only woman on a team of gallant, sexist men -- which also makes her the subject of quite a bit of flirtation. And the Manhunter isn't ready to trust his human counterparts, nor is he willing to reveal the extent of his powers.

In other words, these first fledgling steps are awkward ones for the team, and the writing/artistic team does a fantastic job of showing how those divergent personalities clash. Their personal lives, separate and gradually more together, are woven into the framework of their first big adventure, which also brings them into contact with the likes of Superman, Green Arrow and the Doom Patrol. (The misfit heroes of the Patrol are understandably jealous at how quickly the JLA becomes a media darling.)

By the end, nearly every hero of the DCU is involved in a battle of grand scope, a battle in which the JLA has its chance to shine.

This is a great book for anyone with an interest in team dynamics instead of non-stop punchfests. It's also a nice stroll down memory lane for DC fans who mourn the decision to axe Jordan's Green Lantern and Allen's Flash, and who miss the old Black Canary (when the blond hair was a wig and she still wore fishnets) and Aquaman (short hair, scaly shirt and two hands) before those characters changed so greatly. This is excellent storytelling, albeit significantly revisionistic, and it serves DC fans well.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy JLA: Year One from Amazon.com.