Justice League Elite: Volume 1

May 28, 2008

What’s with DC’s newfound love of black ops? In the past decade, we see this as a big idea behind every one in 2 big ideas: developments from Identity Crisis to Infinite Crisis, the new Outsiders, Checkmate, Green Lantern Corps, Secret 6, etc. And then there are Elseworlds’s JSA: The Liberty Files and Andy Diggle’s excellent reinvention of The Losers under Vertigo. I’m blaming it all on the influence of the Wildstorm universe, aka Earth-50. It’s either that or I go philosophical on a post-political pragmatism that has affected the way we see the nature of organisation and its relation to corruption.

The Justice League Elite (ooh, scaary!) is Joe Kelly’s big idea for JLA and should not be confused with the same big idea for JLA by Brad Meltzer. The JLE — and I don’t mean Justice League Europe — is a secret organisation within JLA whose activities are strictly off the record: no one talks about them, they don’t exist, it doesn’t exist. (Makes you then wonder why anyone should believe there’s just one team running around.) The JLE is sanctioned to go deep cover and stop atrocities before they occur on condition that they do not kill or implicate the squeaky-clean JLA. Nice one! And if you’re on the payroll, don’t quit that day job.

Needless to say, those who are cynical enough to join up, which include Green Arrow (where does he get all this anger?) and the Flash, are too cynical to believe that it can work for long. There’s a flaw for you. And this controversial group is supposed to pursue controversial work uncontroversially: there’s another flaw. It does all the things the League of Good Boys and Girls won’t do: spying, infiltration, sabotage, pre-emptive strike, and banging each other or, in Green Arrow’s case, a buddy’s wife.

You don’t need a team management degree to know that that last application of the term “doing the dirty work” is always a bad idea. But that’s not going to stop everyone onboard, and I do mean everyone, including leader-initiator Vera Black, aka Sister Superior, whose snog the Flash will regret enormously later (wait for it!). So, doomed from the start for acting secret and thinking sleazy, our antiheroes stumble their way like a hard rock band without the budget for instruments from Day One.

This first volume of their few (known) adventures sets the context with a backstory of the first appearance of Manchester Black, Vera’s brother, and his substitute for the JLA, called The Elite. Manchester is a truly frightening villian because he smashes through the pages as a convincing unconquerable wild card without morals or high ideals. He has the most original knees-weakening superpower in a long time: this English yob can do anything by just thinking it. Like every English yob though, he starts to cry when he gets beaten, in this case, by Superman, who is unfortunately drawn to look like a yob here too.

The story then skips to Vera’s own first appearance, after Manchester’s suicide, to correct her brother’s partial error with the idea of a JLE. After proving her worth and her team’s by scaring all the governments of the world into a united war that moves Mother Earth (huh? I’m missing something), the door to JLE’s first great crazy adventure swings open with all the makings of a disastrous search for the nearest stage exit sign. The assembled team itself is electric, original, and eeky, all at the same time. If you believe that you can endure a bungling slow dance of death as plot, try this book: it won’t fail you.

Gweek gives this volume 7 cups of mild coffee.

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