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Review: ‘Batman and The Justice League Vol. 1′

Batman and the Justice League header
Batman and The Justice League, vol. 1
Writer/artist: Shiori Teshirogi
DC Comics; $12.99

This 200-page graphic novel collecting a series originally published in Japan’s monthly magazine Champion Red had me considering the successes and failures of DC Comics’s 2011 “New 52″ reboot of their superhero comics line. One of the stated goals was to reinvent their DC Universe setting for the 21st century, streamlining the supposedly labyrinthine backstories and providing more modern and relevant versions of the iconic heroes to appeal to new readers.

The New 52 kicked off with its flagship title, Justice League, drawn by DC’s co-publisher Jim Lee, a long-time presence both on the printed page and as an executive, whose art has been popular and influential since the early 1990s, and written by then chief creative officer Geoff Johns, DC’s long-time most popular writer, who had already steadily been reinventing DC’s heroes since around the time of the millennium. Their innovations were therefore, predictably, relatively minor ones of surface aesthetics and continuity excisions. One wonders how different the New 52’s Justice League might have been had DC handed the title to a talented creator with a unique vision of the characters unbiased by decades of association with them, or of American superhero comics in general.

Someone like manga-ka Shiori Teshirogi, for example.

Batman and the Justice League vol 1Instead of idly wondering, however, one can now check out the first volume of Teshirogi’s Batman and The Justice League, which quite clearly uses the New 52 reboot and the first story arc or three of Johns and Lee’s short-lived Justice League collaboration as a springboard into a new and different direction (most of the characters are wearing versions of Lee’s redesigned costumes for them, almost all of which were abandoned either immediately, like Aquaman’s sideburns and shell necklaces, or within a few years, like Superman’s collar and Batman’s armoring).

Much of what seems exciting and innovative in Teshirogi’s comics comes simply being an outsider to the American comics industry and America in general—in a brief Q-and-A interview in the back, Teshirogi describes the difficulty in simply drawing an American city vs. a Japanese one—and much of it comes from trying to find the balance between American comics storytelling and manga storytelling to arrive at something that won’t feel alien to American fans of the characters or off-putting to Japanese manga consumers.

The result is a new—at times, startlingly so—adventure starring the so-called World’s Greatest Super-Heroes (they’re definitely the world’s best-known super-heroes) as they’ve never quite been seen before. And given how long these characters have been around, and how many of hundreds of stories in every conceivable media they’ve appeared in thus far, that’s actually quite remarkable.

Teshirogi uses a series of point-of-view characters to draw readers into the world of her Justice League. Our protagonist is Rui Aramiya, a Japanese boy who has traveled to Gotham City in the United States for the very first time, looking for his parents, both of whom disappeared in a mysterious lab explosion in the city a year ago. Although he dislikes violence, Aramiya packed for trouble—bringing with him a cache of smoke bombs, knives, and a sword—and he finds trouble as soon as he enters the city.

He’s accosted by a couple of crooked cops who have fallen prey to The Joker’s latest scheme, an energy drink called Gaia Juice that brings out people’s worst instincts. Batman comes to Rui’s rescue before going off to confront The Joker, where the mystery of Rui’s parents begins to unravel.

So from Rui we’re introduced to Batman, and through Batman we meet The Joker, and then Lex Luthor and then, of course, Superman. The rest of the Justice League—Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Cyborg—are shown in passing when characters talk about them, but by the end of this collection, they have yet to enter the narrative.

Teshirogi has laid out the basic shape of the plot, though. Gotham is apparently a focal point of ley lines that the Aramiyas and Luthor were studying, the latter hoping to use them to gain great power and remake the human race in his image. He naturally allied himself with The Joker, and he predicts an upcoming war between the Justice League and their villains in the city.

Although Teshirogi started with Lee’s costume designs for her versions of the characters, her style transforms them, and she makes interesting choices in how she depicts the characters and their actions, particularly, in this issue, Batman’s scare-the-criminals act. Out of their costumes, Batman and Superman look much younger and cuter than they are typically drawn.

Unbound by the rules of the monthly DC comics, her Joker looks most like a manga version of The Dark Knight‘s Heath Ledger Joker, and the recent death of Robin at his hands gives a sense of urgency to the typical hero/villain fight. That the book’s protagonist is a brilliant teenage maybe-orphan with martial arts training suggests Batman may find himself a new sidekick before Teshirogi’s epic comes to an end.

For now, though, the action is still building, and characters are still being introduced; we’ve only met two of the seven members of the Justice League, after all, but based on how new, different and exciting they are here, meeting the other five, and seeing what happens once they are altogether and aligned against their villains, is certainly something to look forward to.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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