Sunday, August 14, 2011

Well Worth The Wait, Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1 Starts A Bold Brightest Day Story!

The Good: Plot, Artwork, Character development (what there is), "Bonus features," References to the larger DC mythos
The Bad: A little light on character development for most of the characters.
The Basics: Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1 takes the most back burner heroes in the DC Universe and sets them up against the Universe's most intimidating villain: the newly-resurrected Maxwell Lord!

Back when I worked at the comic book shop, I had to get to know the various comic books that were coming through the door. Actually, I didn't have to - my boss was one of those "recommend everything" type guys - but I wanted to be able to better guide readers to what was good and help steer them away from books that didn't grab me. Because it involved the return of Maxwell Lord, a character whose death I was fascinated by in The OMAC Project (reviewed here!), I became very interested in Justice League: Generation Lost. Unfortunately for me, it took until the day I left that job before my store got in Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1 so I could start the story from the beginning. It turns out, Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1 is a graphic novel very few shops are carrying and it has taken me until now to get a copy in for myself.

I was inspired to shell out the money for this blind because it was part of the Brightest Day Saga, even if only peripherally. For those unfamiliar with it, the Brightest Day Saga was a major DC Universe crossover event that followed up on the hugely successful and popular Blackest Night Saga. In Brightest Day several heroes and villains find themselves resurrected and one of them is Maxwell Lord. In one of the other Brightest Day volumes, it explains why Maxwell Lord has returned; his task is to stop Magog and thus prevent the events from Kingdom Come (reviewed here!) from ever coming to pass. Because Kingdom Come is one of my two favorite graphic novels, this was added incentive for me to pick up and read Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1, which is half of the Generation Lost story, collecting issues one through twelve of the limited series.

In "Gone But Not Forgotten," the resurrection of Maxwell Lord is seen as a worldwide priority and a manhunt ensues with the superheroes and every major government searching for Lord after he has two police officers kill one another, via his mental powers. As Booster Gold tracks Lord and Fire, Ice and Captain Atom deal with a Lord trap, Maxwell Lord does show up. He pleads to Booster that he just wants to save the world and then he promptly erases the memory of everyone on Earth so they forget who he is . . . everyone except the four former Justice League International heroes.

In "Max'ed Out" the four who are unaffected confirm that Maxwell Lord has been erased from the memories of everyone else on Earth. With that, Lord makes sure Captain Atom is discredited, Ice is a fugitive and Fire is banished from Checkmate, leaving the four to rely only on one another to figure out what Lord is up to.

What follows is Skeet - Booster Gold's robot companion - picking up a signal that leads the team to the new Blue Beetle. The Blue Beetle is under attack by a squad of OMACs and in trying to repel them, the team ends up in Russia where they find themselves rescuing Rocket Red. The chain of events, Booster realizes, is another manipulation by Max Lord, which Lord obligingly confirms. Maxwell Lord is getting the Justice League International back together again. Offended by such manipulations, Fire leads the team to Checkmate in search of Lord and after the botched attempt to stop him there, Lord brings the fight to them at their Justice League safehouse. All the while, Lord is dogged by people he attempts to control becoming Black Lantern husks and he is plagued by a vision in which he must kill Magog.

One of the aspects of Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1 that I enjoyed right off the bat was that writer Judd Winick does not operate on the assumption that readers know all of the c-list (or d-list) superheroes that comprise the former Justice League International. Instead, Fire, Ice, Captain Atom and to a lesser extent Booster Gold are given introductions that show their powers clearly and then develops the story from there. Fortunately, though, Winick and his team do not insult readers who have familiarity with the Maxwell Lord story by simply rehashing all of the established backstory. As such, Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1 is a pretty satisfying mix of review and new material, with less of the former as the book develops.

Another plus for the book is that it is working with the c-listers. Ice, especially, comes across as whiny with not wanting to participate in any search for Maxwell Lord or the like. But what that turns into is a chance to charm the readers and Winick does that quite well through some amusing banter. For example, when Rocket Red joins the team and Max Lord is confirming his intentions for the group, Rocket Red is flattered that Lord wants him as part of the new JLI. When he says so, Ice quietly notes "Don't 'thank' the psychopathic madman" (Chapter five) and it is well-timed and amusing.

Beyond that, the narrative is mostly focused. Though there are little divergences - Captain Atom, for example, takes a chapter to have a sidestory explored wherein his sudden obsession with Maxwell Lord is exposed by an otherwise disconnected trip to the future - the main thrust of the book is a chase story. This is hardly unsatisfying, though, because the chase is engaged by characters who are chasing with a righteous cause and a villain who seems to actually want to save the world, in his own weird way.

The problem comes, some, on the character front. Fire, Rocket Red and Blue Beetle are largely neglected in terms of character development, which is fine considering how many characters this story has to serve. Captain Atom has more of a plot-significant story than a character development one, though the fact that he has so many explosions he absorbs early on comes into play in a rather significant way. So Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1 focuses more - on the character front - on Maxwell Lord, Booster Gold and Ice.

Maxwell Lord seems tormented and early in the book, he sets down the ground rules for his latest "game" with reality. He wants the Justice League International members together and strong, but he wants them to stop fighting him. The crossover with the Brightest Day storyline comes as Lord is tormented occasionally by the White Lantern that demands that he prevent the war from happening. As such, fans of Kingdom Come will be pleased as there is significant iconography from that book in Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1 including Magog, Captain Atom, the incident with Parasite recounted and, very late in the book, Alloy. But Lord seems more like the Maxwell Lord we knew before his death; he is a conniving villain and he sets plot movements in motion without growing or changing as a character (that said, he has an amazing character analysis of Batman late in the book that is laugh-out-loud funny - Winick deserves some real credit for that).

Booster Gold, similarly, is not so much developing in the volume as he is trying to convince the others of his worth. When Maxwell Lord alters everyone's memories, they come to believe that Ted Kord - the prior Blue Beetle - killed himself. This offends Booster because he knows the truth; that Maxwell Lord put a bullet through his brain. So, Booster becomes obsessed with stopping Maxwell Lord and, ironically, seems most aware of how he and the others are being manipulated by Lord to do exactly what he wants. It's an interesting character dichotomy and I am eager to see how it plays out in the second volume.

The real surprise for me is how much the character of Ice is developed. Shocked by having come back from the dead, she is a reluctant heroine in the process of becoming. Tora is deeply conflicted and as the volume goes on, she has some great development - but as most of it happens in the final chapter it is not kosher to discuss it at any length. Regardless, Judd Winick takes characters most readers would not have been inclined to care about before reading the book and makes them so compelling they want to come back for the end.

The artwork also does this. The colors are vivid, the panels have a great sense of movement and the characters are recognizable in each and every panel (except when they are disguised or the pages are just a bunch of Red Rockets fighting one another). The artwork is clear and none of the panels are cheated to have more animated versions of the characters.

That said, Justice League: Generation Lost - Volume 1 is not the complete story, but it is the first twelve chapters of a twenty-four chapter book and until there is an Absolute Justice League: Generation Lost this will have to do. The book contains the original cover art, as well as the cover art for the variants and the hardcover book is a nice addition to anyone's permanent collection (and I can write this because I know how the second volume ends). This book is largely a setup and it is a worthwhile one, making it easy to recommend and want to revisit again in the future.

For other Brightest Day works, please check out my reviews of:
Brightest Day - Volume 1
Brightest Day - Volume 2
Brightest Day - Volume 3
Brightest Day: Green Lantern
Brightest Day: Green Lantern Corps - Revolt Of The Alpha-Lanterns
The Black Ring - Volume 1
Green Arrow: Into The Woods


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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