Crisis In Comic Book Land? Comparing new and old 'Justice League' tells the tale


Image Credit: DC Comics

And so, the biggest reboot in comic book history has commenced. Last week, DC Comics released Justice League #1, a new version of its venerable super-hero team, set within a revised version of its creative universe. (You can read Ken Tucker’s review here.) Over the next month, the publisher will roll out 51 new and revamped series as part of the company’s (latest) effort to rejuvenate sales of the industry’s staple, stapled product, the monthly periodical. (At the same time, DC Comics is also making a major investment in digital distribution.) The first Justice League title made its debut in the fall of 1960 following a wildly successful beta test in the pages of Brave & The Bold. Back then, the book (and the team) was called Justice League of America and sported a red, white and blue logo festooned with stars. The new Justice League logo is more humble. Neutral blue and white, nothing fancy and nothing symbolic. That’s just one of several notable differences between then and now that tell the tale of how super-hero comics and its attending subculture have (and haven’t) evolved.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 It’s 1960. Superhero comics are on the cusp of a creative and commercial renaissance known as “The Silver Age,” with DC Comics leading the way by giving modern makeovers to “Golden Age” properties like The Flash and Green Lantern. (Soon, Marvel Comics will join the cause by unleashing a new generation of characters — including Spider-Man and Hulk — that will capture the imagination of sixties youth.) JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 It’s 2011. Comic books live on the fringes of commerce, which is to say, the comic book store. The consumer is mostly adult. A variety of youth marketing initiatives have proven ineffective. Hope for the industry seemed to come from bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble, which began carrying a wide range of product in response to the boom in comic book movies. But Borders has imploded and Barnes and Noble is said to be rethinking its comic book strategy. Bottom line: A struggling genre of entertainment wishes it was 1960 again.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 The state of the super-hero archetype is strong. Channeling “Greatest Generation” nobility and space age wonder, superheroes are decidedly adult Right Stuff role models with a license to POW!, although interestingly, in the first issue (and in the stories to come), they have little interaction with the ordinary peeps they are sworn to protect. JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 The state of the archetype is confused. In a culture that no longer believes easily in self-sacrificing heroics and righteous conflict, super-heroes have become a deeply flawed, even unlikable lot, marked by arrested character development. Batman is an unhappy hard-ass who can’t get over his past. Green Lantern is a pumped-up, affirmation-needy jock. In the tweaked, post-“Flashpoint” DCU, superheroes are a shock-of-the-new phenomenon. The authorities want this outbreak of outlaw vigilantes — and their awful adversaries — curtailed and contained, ASAP. “The world’s afraid of us,” Batman declares. Which is just the way the gloom-addicted Dark Knight likes it.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 The first two captions. 1. “United in action, firm in purpose, the world-famous heroes of The Justice League Of America have pooled their extraordinary talents to stamp out evil and injustice wherever and whenever they occur.” 2. “Now there are called upon to fight tyranny and inhumanity in a dimensional world dominated by a three-eyed evil genius who tricks them into entering… THE WORLD OF NO RETURN!” JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 The first two captions. 1. “There was a time when the world didn’t call them its greatest super-heroes.” “2. “There was a time when the world didn’t know what a super-hero was.”

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 Depiction of youth culture’s relationship to super-heroes comes in the form of hipster teen Snapper Carr, the JLA’s chief cheerleader and honorary member. He often helps save the day. Dig his hilarious sixties patter from the first issue: “You’re a real ‘bad dad,’ Despero! I’m gonna queer your game!” JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 Depiction of youth culture’s relationship to super-heroes comes in the form of high school football star Victor Stone, whose neglectful scientist father is obsessed with the super-hero phenomenon. Like the rest of his generation, Vic doesn’t know what to make of these costumed marvels. He’ll soon find out.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter are on the cover. All are featured in the story. Superman and Batman are also members of the team, but don’t appear on the covers of the first 18 issues of the series. Superman is often a cameo presence in the stories. JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 Unlike Justice League of America, which proceeded from the perspective that the group had been together for quite some time, Justice League begins with the team not yet formed. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Cyborg are on the cover of the first issue, but only Batman, Green Lantern, and pre-Cyborg Vic Stone are featured inside. (Superman shows up on the last page.) Note: In today’s comic book marketplace, where Batman and Superman are among a handful of truly potent brands, there’s no reservation about over-leveraging cash cow characters.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 The first 12 pages introduce the villain, the conflict, and every member of the team with an action beat. It contains roughly 10 different settings (including a parallel dimension), a dinosaur attack, and two-page chess match. JUSTICE LEAGUE # 1 The first 12 pages chronicle one long action sequence on the rooftops of Gotham City that brings Batman and Green Lantern together.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 The conflict: The collegial band of super-friends battle and defeat a tyrant named Despero, an over-the-top, self-proclaimed “menace” from another dimension bent on expanding his influence and making mindless slaves out of conquered people. Many of the early issues of Justice League of America worked the alien tyrant antagonist/enslavement stakes angle. JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 The conflict: Batman and Green Lantern chase after a supernatural suicide bomber — the monstrous acolyte of a mysterious, unseen enemy — while being chased themselves by cops in choppers while also bickering with or fighting each other. Meanwhile, Vic mopes.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 A sit-down reading experience. The storytelling specs: 26 pages of story, 124 panels, 257 word balloons and captions, some of them quite wordy. No double page spreads. 1 splash page. JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 A quick flip, visually driven experience. The storytelling specs: 24 pages of story. 79 panels, 145 word balloons and captions, few of them very wordy at all. 1 double page spread. 2 single splash pages. [Note: Except for page counts, all measurements are subjective or approximate.]

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 A full meal of entertainment. The first issue tells a complete story told in five short chapters. It plays like a compressed feature length movie. In the 1960s, the perishable monthly pamphlet was the only delivery system for comic book storytelling. JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 A small appetizer by comparison. The first issue bills itself as “Part One” of a multi-part story. It plays like the first 10 minutes of feature length movie. Eventually, the individual issues will be collected and sold as a “graphic novel.” Many comic book fans will prefer to wait for the collected edition of this story instead of buying it in pieces. Hence, fewer trips to the comic book store. Hence, less sampling of other products.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1 Cost: 10 cents. Was that expensive back then? JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 Cost: $3.99. Is that too much for 24 pages of quick-flip fun? An industry may hinge on your answer.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

Comments (108 total) Add your comment
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  • Gary

    “Publishers are re-investing in comic book stores” I cannot agree with that. With digital comics available for less money and when they are released the same day as the physical copies, how does that help the comic book stores? And factor in piracy, digital copies of your favorite comic books will be soon available at any torrent site. This is forcing many comic stores to either fold or evolve. I do not see the publishers supporting comic shops at all. THey seem to be more concerned with their licensing deals. Would it hurt to include a quick blurb to visit your local comic book shop after a movie trailer (it was recently done, but for only one movie – green lantern), or even after a commercial for a licensed product. I am a proud supporter of comic book shops and I hope they stick aound for a long time. It’s a piece of Americana that paved the way for all the super hero money making. And I’m not so sold on the NEW 52 yet. Have a great Sunday all!

    • Melinda

      Extremely forced and disingenuous article. Reads like a 7th grade class project. Definitely a narcissist and a desperate poser rather than a comic book fan on staff. Typical whiny negativity. Childish style.

      • Leithen

        Doesn’t that apply to most articles on EW, though? It’s more People than it is Paris Review.

      • Julie Anderton

        Hey, Melinda and Leithen, rather than wasting your time reading EW’s articles, why don’t you team up and create your own entertainment site?

      • Leithen

        Hey, I’m just saying set your expectation levels where they should be.

      • Leithen

        Although now that I think about it, why shouldn’t he be subject to criticism. Without critique, there’s no basis for improvement.

        I do think calling him a narcissist and poser is going a bit too far, not knowing the man myself. Name-calling is something I won’t engage in.

      • harpier

        I actually found the abrupt contrast between the issues well-considered in its points of comparison and admirably devoid of evaluative (as opposed to analytical) comments. The point is not that contemporary comics are worse than the 1960 Justice League launch, just that the genre has changed. Considerably. The reasons for their differences are multiple and even a sustained discussion of each would likely be unable to address them all. I consider this article an invitation to ruminate on some of them. Personally, I find the rapid storytelling and exposition-heavy style of most ’60s comics far less appealing than the more noticeably stylized, visually kinetic modern comics with a longer view of storytelling. They’re more (or at the very least differently) sophisticated, and frankly more suitable for trade paperbacks. Perhaps the format’s just outgrown the 24-sheet rag.

      • Mcfly

        Childish style very much describes the writers at EW. The magazine that last week described Sarah Michelle Geller as “one of TV’s most iconic stars” definitely needs to grow the hell up and address people who are older than 25. If Sarah Michelle Geller is who they describe as “iconic” they really need to learn TV history and delve into an era at least before the 90s. I’m 50 years old and apparently not important anymore to any network where the 18-49 rule is golden but Julie Anderton, are you 12 years old?

      • Mcfly

        Also Marvel was the first who developed the “flawed hero” back into 60’s. Spiderman was a hero who had trouble paying the rent not like Bruce Wayne the millionaire playboy who could afford the great toys. The Fantastic Four were heroes who were family that didn’t get along that well but stuck together when the going got rough like a lot of families. The Xmen were discriminated agains like blacks during the civil rights movement era that they were created in. Daredevil was blind and was a product of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Marvel was way beyond DC whose unflawed All-Amercian heroes were pretty much gods who were untouchable. Stan Lee a pioneer and was humanizing heroes way before DC even dared to have one of their heroes show any type of human frailty whatsoever.

      • Monty

        @McFly Most of what you say is spot on, but its not like Batman didn’t have his dark side. Here’s a guy, despite all of the riches in the world, that fought crime because he lost his parents as a kid and no amount of money or privelage changed that. Sure he’s rich, but he is also seeking vengence. Hell, in Detective comics 27, Batman killed a guy or two. Comics have evolved several times, not the three times that are often referred to (Golden Age, Silver Age, Modern Age).

      • Perez

        damn another article about comicbooks.. give it a rest so people can try to interested again.. plz

    • Gary

      More research could have been done for sure. Many comic book shops are up-in-arms at how the Big Publishers are forgetting them. If people knew that there are probably less than 3000 comic book shops in the US, they would understand a little better at how the landscape has changed. There may be a heavily saturated area of stores like in California, Florida and New York, but like mentioned from another, people who live in rural areas may be discouraged to try to get their comic fix. So while digital comics may help the industry in the long run, it does not help the brick & mortar retailers, which just like the middle class as a whole, was the heartbeat of the comic industry. Everything’s relative….

    • gazmo

      Everyone hates Exxon Mobil for gas prices but $4.00 a gallon is only 16 times as much as it cost in 1960 – comics cost 40 times as much and they aren’t worth HALF that.
      Disney/Marvel greedheads make Bernie Madoff look like a philanthropist!!! . . . and DC is just as bad!!

      $3.99 for 24 FREAKIN’ PAGES???
      Playboy gives you nearly 200 pages (and boobies!!) for $5.99.
      Entertainment Weekly is 80 pages (give or take) for 39 CENTS an issue (if you subscribe online – shameless plug)
      24 pages for $3.99 is a MASSIVE RIPOFF!!!
      (and don’t tell me about the DC and 2nd tier Marvel books for $2.99 – they’ve already cut the page count on those down to TWENTY per issue).
      1960: 24 pages of story for a dime = 4/10 of one cent per page.
      2011: 24 pages of story for $3.99 = more than 16.6 cents per page!!!
      At that price per page EW should go for about $12.50 per issue (omitting ad pages)!!

      In THIS economy ALL these comic companies deserve the demise their GREED calls for!!! I’ve been reading – and enjoying – comics for 48 years but this GREED BS is just too much!!

      • Mcfly

        Uh..heh. you said boobies.

      • Lex

        Using an online Inflation Calculator…something that cost $0.10 in 1960 would cost…$0.73 in 2010. So, today’s prices are over 5x as expensive for less material. Awesome…

      • comicbookguy

        A huge amount of the pages in a Playboy or other magazine are paid advertisements. Comic books don’t get too many of those. It would also probably mean a 60 page comic with 24 pages of story, the rest ads. I think in the old days they sold enough copies to keep the price low and make it work on volume. As the audience shrank the only way to keep the industry alive was to raise the price. Unfortunately the interest is just not there it looks like.

    • Rush

      Better to wait for the trade than to buy the series month to month. At $4 an issue it’s a poor investment. The trend now is to span stories over several titles so to get the full picture you have to spend $20 to $100 a month. The publishers are killing their own industry by not re-formatting the business to make their product affordable and attractive to the casual customer. Only uber-nerds with unlimited disposable income can afford to follow these books month to month. This is why it will remain a niche product. Even the collectability factor has waned.

    • EricLr

      Yeah, and comic book stores were the ones who killed comic book sales in convenience stores, grocery stores, etc. back in the 80’s and early 90’s with all the exclusive deals they demanded. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just reaping what they sowed.

  • avells

    Oh Justice League… If there are no comic stores then there’s no way to get these comics! Everyone should support their comic book store or shop online!

  • Dave

    FYI…It’s Green Lantern who’s featured in the issue, not Flash.

    • Jeff Jensen

      thanks for the catch; now corrected.

      • Um

        For a so-called “expert” who allegedly read the comic…that’s a pretty big mistake.

  • DavidJ

    I’m a big fan of the reboot idea, but I have to say this first issue didn’t do much for me. The story felt too choppy, action was hard to follow at times, and Green Lantern was frankly kind of annoying.

  • Randy

    I’ve owned a comic book store for 18 years, believe me when I say that DC and Marvel have absolutely no regard for the direct market, and would in fact like to see it go away.

    • Guy

      Interesting point. What do you think their end game is? How do you think they want to ultimately distribute their product…digitally?

      • Perez

        I think they realise the hard truth that comicbooks are like payphones in the 90s just before cell phones dominated the telecommunication market.. in a few years you won’t find comicbooks anywhere except selling next to some star trek next generation toys at a geekconvention

  • HoneyB

    I collected comics as a kid (subscribed to many series, often tangents of each other’s titles), and every now and then I take them out and read them. Even though there is sometimes corny dialogue, the characterization is relatively complex, the interplay between characters intense, and each character is integral to the story. Now, when I page through the same titles, I a) don’t feel any connection to the characters or even recognize some of them (like Emma Frost’s complete revamp into a anti-hero with diamond skin… wtf?) and b) don’t feel invested. I loved JLA when I was a kid, but I wouldn’t even look at this book.

  • Flip

    Grant Morrison’s series was called JLA, not Justice League America or Justice League of America.

  • Schmoker

    10 cents in 1960 is equal to 75 cents today. So, yeah, comics are enormously overpriced today. These days, I wait for collections to be printed as a graphic novel, then I get them from my local library for free. I know this is a practice which hurts the comics industry, but comics are not worth it for me to spend five times more on them than I did when I was a kid. If the price were simply the same, plus inflation, with maybe a small bump up for the publisher, perhaps then I would buy them. But that would mean comics would need to be something like a dollar or a dollar fifty, not four bucks. At four bucks, I’m just not interested enough to worry about the whole industry collapsing. It would take hundreds of dollars a month to buy the number of comics it takes to really get the full breadth of the DC or Marvel universes. Can’t see spending that much money on them anymore.

    • lupica

      I completely agree, although the quality of the material has improved (i.e. the colors are brighter and the paper is thicker) in the past 50 years. Too much money for too little product. And I LOVED DC comics growing up (I’m 40).

      • theduck

        To be fair, creators are also paid FAR better than they were in the 1960s, which also drives up the price. But I agree that $4.00 for something that can be read in 10 minutes is too much – at least back in the day (HEY! You kids get off my lawn!) you got a complete story that took some time to read. These days you’re getting 1/6 of a trade paperback, so it makes more sense to wait and read it all at once.

    • peggym

      In1960 I could buy a coke or a candy bar for a nickel. I don’t think the $.75 figure is correct, or at least not proportionate to the increase in other kid stuff.

      • Schmoker

        It’s correct. There are numerous money calculators on the internet which will verify it.

      • Abe Froman

        And of course everything on the internet is accurate.

  • Naja haje

    And comic books used to be easier to obtain – they were sold in grocery stores & drug stores. They’re hard to find outside speciality comic book stores, which are rare outside of urban areas.

  • ikon

    i was even more horrified by this book than i thought i would be, Lee’s art is beautiful (as expected) but really…how long is this arc gonna be? The book suffers from ‘Bendis-itis’–a horrible disease–the main symptom being a story told in 12 parts when, back in the day, it would be done (better) in 3 or four, But, it’s all about the hype AND the $$$. Sad to see Geoff Johns fall victim to it…I was gonna buy a couple of the 52 books but I think I may wait and see…and then buy the good ones (if any) on eBay. Sad, sad, sad…

    • Brian Wallace

      “Bendis-itis” isn’t a recent phenomenon. Have ever read “Crisis on Infinite Earths” recently? It’s SOOOO bloated. There are literally about five different endings starting with issue #7. And I know this is sacrilege but….ummmm…..”Watchmen” is too long, too. Even Alan Moore has said he initially planned it at six issues.


      • Patrick

        Strongly disagree. Bendis’ stories aren’t bloated, just the opposite. He stretches a story that should take two or three issues to tell over the course of six, eight, even ten issues, with huge sections of each book nothing but repeated panels with no dialogue to simulate a drawn-out pause. It’s ridiculous and a rip-off to monthly readers. It would take him five years to tell the amount of story told in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, at a minimum. And it wouldn’t be half as good as when Marv Wolfman did it. And WATCHMEN in six issues would have meant no origin issues for each of the characters, and that would have been a damn shame.

  • krayzeman

    The biggest reason why i dont collect comics anymore is because of the price. For the price they charge for a 30 page so-called story its a rip off. I admit that i LOVE Jim Lee’s artwork but you can only appreciate it so much if there is not much of a story behind it. I bout the digital version of this issue and found my self still wondering about “how the heck do they get away with charging $3.99 for this bull??” I like the concept but $3.99 for a digital version is just too much. It should be at least half that. At least with print i would have something in hand. smh. Anyway this issue was just ok but it seems to me Frank Miller covered this SAME area WITH Jim Lee AS THE ARTIST in BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER. This industry needs to take hard look at itself if it wants to survive…

    • BG 17

      While I agree that comic book prices have skyrocketed, have you seen what it costs a kid to buy Pokemon cards recently? My son is a big fan and it blows my mind at the cost. So I don’t think comics are that far off other collectibles.

      • Perez

        Pokemon will be like Pogs became after the 90s.

  • Nathan

    I think that the new 52 is the best thing to happpen to dc in a long time. Its a breathe of fresh air to what was a stale industry I think people just hate change sometimes you need to give it a chance. Also I disagree that the price is to high up it was 10 cents in the 60s cause the value of our dollor was better then it is now if you notice everything is going up in prices due to our growing debt. Nuff said

  • Cameorn

    Yes comics are expensive today and it has caused me to get less books than I would like on a monthly basis, but there are far fewer readers now so it is necessary for the industry. That being said, today’s stories carry far more emotional depth and complexity. The writers today aren’t just some of the best comics writers but the best writers in any medium. There is a reason books like Powers, Walking Dead and Chew are being optioned as TV shows. The medium is carrying some of the most imaginative storytelling right now.

    • Patrick

      But there’s so little story there. It’s all angst and howling rage and regurgitated pop-culture references, because most comics writers working today (not all, but “most” is a safe estimation I think) bring almost nothing to the table as far as influences go except…older comic books. There’s not much in the way of plot or even good dialogue. (Granted, dialogue has never been a strong point in this medium…) The decompression school of writing has all but ruined American comics today because by and large people aren’t getting their money’s worth. Imagine buying a novel and when you take it home and open it up, the font is extra-extra-large, triple-spaced, with words only on every other page and three blank pages between chapters. That’s what a modern comic feels like to me today. You can read one in less than ten minutes. It’s a rip-off.

  • Lenn

    “I’m gonna queer your game!”

    Welcome to my daily vocabulary!

  • Melinda

    Extremely forced and disingenuous article. Definitely a narcissist and a poser rather than a comic book fan on staff. Typical.

    • Birdman73

      Why thank you, oh marketing shill for DC Comics!! Your feedback is so valuable, it needed to be posted twice. And you’re right, Jeff Jensen obviously knows nothing of the comics industry … why, look at all the articles under his byline … Comic-Con … “Dark Knight Rises” … Star Wars comics … you’re so right, he knows nothing about comics or genre materials whatsoever. Brilliant observation on your part!!!

      • Jill

        Nah, she’s right, he is kind of a tool, and this was a dumb article that doesn’t really offer much insight. How this douche is still employed by EW amazes me.

    • Perez

      I’m just tired of comicbook this and comicbook that.. comics comic comics.. comicbook movies.. comicbook conventions.. comicbook toliet paper.. comicbook costume cosplay meet and greets

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