Written by Eric Cahill
Dear Justice League” is a new graphic novel, part of an increased direct to bookshelf focus DC has with a younger audience in mind. Smart business and this is just the sort of book they should be putting out. The premise is that members of the world famous (but currently not as in vogue) superhero team respond to letters from fans.
And most of the time when they respond hilarity ensues. It’s generally a success. It seems a little slight but the art has great energy and none of the stories repeat themselves. You hear the premise and you can safely guess a few different stories youre likely to read – and youre right! The difference is that it features ALL the possible story types you can imagine. Light comedy with Hawkgirl, slapstick with Superman, traditional heroics with Aquaman, bully revenge with Flash, total farce with Batman… this book has got it all. So as safe and predictable as it is, it makes up for it in pure volume and delightfulness. And what is in there is well put together and entertaining.
It can be hard to tell what the best target audience for something like this is – reading levels are all over the place and what kids should or shouldn’t be reading doesn’t tend to be an exact science.
I’ve got a kid, they’re halfway through being 7 and they’re a reader. I honestly have no idea exactly what they’re “supposed” to be reading. The general rule is if they’re reading at all, that’s supposed to be a good thing right? But being glued to a tablet or phone requires more reading than any kid used to get on a daily basis and everyone hates that – so any reading is good no matter what can’t be true. I know there’s a difference for the brain if it’s on a screen or on the page but hey even comics are being read on tablets more often than not these days. Generally I say the rule should be the kid should be reading at their own personal level and in some way that inspires their creative thinking. Also lessons are good, but here they’re surface level lessons and aren’t quite consistent amongst each other. But still relatively good lessons so no harm no foul to my little one.
So for the kiddos, this book is light and breezy and doesn’t expect too much knowledge of the vast canon from the audience. It uses a Justice League that I assume was mandated by the publisher at large but seems to be chosen for their character variety. My kid really enjoyed seeing the characters that he recognized and understood quickly the ones they didn’t. So it’s easy for a younger reader to get these characters; one of the best things about the DC heroes is how iconic they are and so even if you’re not sure what their deal is, you can guess just by looking at them. It helps that the stories are motivated by children in the narrative, asking the sorts of things you’d expect in this kind of book.
My son enjoyed seeing the heroes make a mess and screw up, and loved imagining themselves asking them questions. Some stories are innocuous and fun while others sort of try and teach a lesson. The variety wasn’t a total success; my kid wanted a bit more action after the Aquaman one and thought the Hawkgirl one was pointless. It seemed that comparing the two hurt one and helped the other. But then again their favorites were the Superman one for its balls out visual storytelling and the Batman one for its promised ending. Part of the great enduring power of Batman is kids imagining they have all that cool bat-shit in a belt of their own.
As I mentioned before, the lessons are a bit muddled – Superman & Cyborg both have stories that seem at least partially critical of the premise of the book itself. There’s an overarching plot involving the teams apparent obsession with the genocide of bug men that doesn’t exactly pay off and seems tacked on just to have a team up at the end (my kid made the point that he thought they were going to end up being parademons & was disappointed when they weren’t – and now so am I). My brood liked seeing the heroes making mistakes and the general theme of comeuppance but I don’t think he cared too much about the online privacy and don’t text and drive parables.
My favorites? The Hawkgirl was a sweet slice of life that had little to do with the character herself with a light punchline that I thought landed perfectly. Aquaman’s works as a spot on encapsulation of the characters best qualities and is the all around best “regular” superhero take in the book. Superman’s (at least at the start) really uses slapstick in a way only the comic medium can. And the Batman bit has the best jokes but to be fair Batman jokes are always the best in these things. I think pretty much everyone casually knows a lot about Batman and so there’s just a lot more material to work with. The weakest stories? Cyborgs is barely a story, Flash’s payoff is antithetical to itself, and most important for this site, the Green Lantern story is based on a pretty thin idea that’s ignoring an obvious core concept of the character.
But it’s good to see Simon Baz in a new book meant for all ages and reminds me that with Jessica Cruz getting some big push as well, Green Lantern is a concept that’s best attributes are its diversity – and that’s also where it draws its greatest strengths.
**Some slight spoilers and Green Lantern pet peeving? The book doesn’t really elevate or denigrate the GLs in general. Since the story was about Baz shopping for a way to replace his suit since hes sick of the color (my child suggested it was possibly because it’s the same color as barf), it does seems to poke fun at their costumes, which seems fitting since Baz’s suit is a redesign to make the whole thing cooler, but seems like it could ave been tacked on to any old superhero at all. There’s nothing very space copish or wish ringie in the whole thing. And nothing much pops about Baz himself. But well drawn and fun and it includes a newer GL. And how about a fan nitpick dunked on by a small child? Green Lanterns make their own suits with their rings so buying a new outfit just wouldn’t be a thing right? Well my child pointed out that the Lantern uniforms have black in them and since the GLs can’t make anything that’s not green (the last few decades at least) then it must be given to them and not ring-generated. Good logic helped by the story we read together and so its become canon in the household now, unfortunately.
The kid did get into the premise in general as well. I asked him if he’d want to write the heroes any questions if this was real and he seemed eager and interested. He said he’d ask Batman what movie he saw with parents before they were killed (dark!), why pieces of Krypton hurt Superman when he’s on Earth (diabolical!), and he’d ask Green Lantern to ask the Guardians why they chose him for the ring (deep!). He also said he’d ask the author to do a book about the other super team with better luck at the multiplex and didn’t seem eager for the previewed Supervillains themed sequel.
But he was interested in a direct sequel featuring more DC characters, namechecking Supergirl and Robin, and suggested the authors could work on more stories about Superman and Batman specifically. He raved about the art too, comparing it favorably to an animated series that he loved.
If you’ve got kids or love light, expressive cartooning with an simple story sensibility this is a buy. At the very least get it out of a library for a little one you know. I dug it and I love what DC is doing with these; its about time and I hope the quality keeps going up (mine LOVED the Super Sons OGN). Ultimately it’s the kids who will read it, and it’s made for them so what they get out of it really matters. Mine read it and enjoyed it pretty well. It didn’t talk down to them and they got most of the jokes. Though they seemed familiar enough with the tropes that he saw the punchlines coming a mile away a lot of the time. He’s got his favorites of the characters but to the books credit, he really enjoyed stories from the others. He thought the premise was clever and was inspired to do his own bit. His mom got a hand drawn ‘Ask Captain America’ comic later that day – so close but no cigar. And the interest faded pretty quick. But getting laughs out of a kid, exposing him to different types of stories AND storytelling & inspiring them to do some of their own? That’s the stuff right there.