A triple-sized story that has limited substance, but a lot of style and even more potential.
In a world of social media and viral videos, the concept of a deep dark secret is becoming increasingly foreign. It's next to impossible to keep a secret for more than five minutes these days without someone tweeting a vague hint of it. In some sense, this makes stories about secrets downright exotic. Why else would Dan Brown be a best selling author? Upsetting religious institutions just isn't enough anymore.
In the DC Universe, there are still forces capable of keeping secrets from the omnipresent eye of social media, intergalactic peacekeeping corps, and Batman. Some of those secrets have significantly changed the context and circumstances for certain characters. There's just no way to look at Wonder Woman the same way after finding out she was the product of yet another illicit romp by Zeus. While that secret would probably have a great impact on Maury Povich, the secrets in Justice League of America #1 require a very different venue.
To create this venue, Bryan Hitch has basically been given the keys to a Porsche paid for by Bruce Wayne's credit card and can take the kind of joyride that would inspire a sequel to Farris Bueller's Day Off. There are no more convergences. There are no evil double-gangers or reformed villains. There's just the Justice League, playing in their old sandbox without having to worry about Lex Luthor or Captain Cold spitting in it. This basic setup allows Justice League of America #1 to focus entirely on the story and the secrets that no TMZ reporter could hope to uncover.
The consequences of these secrets are revealed early on. There's nothing subtle about it. The mysterious new threat will turn the whole planet into a smoldering stain on Darkseid's boot, but it's not Darkseid who's behind this. That's what makes the secrets within the story intriguing. This is not the kind of threat from an A-list villain who tries to destroy Earth every other Monday in the DC universe. The Justice League deals with them the same way most of us deal with a traffic jam. There are many other forces at work here and Bryan Hitch created a nearly triple-sized book to explore them.
But as intriguing as these forces and the secrets behind them are, not much comes of it. There's still plenty of moments that highlight the personal conflicts for certain characters, namely Superman and Aquaman. There's even some solid action of the classic Bryan Hitch variety. However, it comes in the form of an overly generic and somewhat bloated battle against the Living Parasite, a DC villain who has never been more than a B-list star. He gives the Justice League a good fight in the same way Mark Whalburg stars in a decent movie every now and then, but nobody is going to mistake it for a cage fight with Superman and Doomsday.
There is a link to a larger conflict hinted at during this struggle, but it's subtle and unclear. It's like trying to watch the Matrix without Morpheus. It's clear there's something profound going on. It's just hard to figure out what it is until the final few pages. To get to those pages, there's a lot of exposition and a lot of wordy dialog. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. By making this book so much bigger and nearly doubling the price, it provides a lot more opportunities for characters to interact. Those interactions, however, don't produce a lot of depth. There are a lot of shovels handed out, but not many holes get dug.
That's not to say the interactions bring nothing to the table. There are more hints at a connection to a larger conflict. But again, those hints are very thin and some could even be skipped without limiting the impact of the story. Given the quality of Bryan Hitch's artwork, that just seems like a waste of ink. Even so, the interactions do feel genuine and in character. Superman, Aquaman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League each have a distinct voice. Nobody sounds out of character or anything. And in an era where too many characters are made to sound more like Batman, that counts for something.
What keeps the story from getting too obscured is the big reveal at the ending. While the connections aren't in place, the scope and scale of the threat is clearly established and it's on a level that even the Justice League hasn't encountered before. It goes a step beyond Darkseid and is just half-a-step down from completely absurdity. But it provides the necessary context to understand the threat the Justice League is up against. It's not just some invading alien army or some overpowered monster that looks like it came from Tim Burton's worst nightmares. It's the kind of threat that should more than inspire Dan Brown's next book.
This is where the extent of the secrets involved become clearer as well. It's clear someone is lying and without knowing whose paychecks are being signed by Lex Luthor, it's very hard to tell who it is. There's an element of mystery involved, but not in the classic Scooby Doo sense. There's nobody running around in a ghost costume. There are just forces that neither the Justice League nor the NSA can comprehend, but these same forces do plenty to peak their curiosity.
On the whole, Justice League of America #1 is like an extra large buffet at a fancy cocktail party. Not all the food in the buffet seems appealing, but there are enough tantalizing treats offered to justify a second helping. There are still too many missing connections to tie the plot together, but the secrets involved still hold plenty of intrigue. In an era where too many secrets can be shared in a tweet, that counts for a lot.