Even under the best circumstances, team books are difficult to write. Considering that half of "Justice League: Rebirth's" cast also have their own "Rebirth" specials, there's a lot of baggage to address here -- but that's why writer/artist Bryan Hitch and inkers Daniel Henriques and Scott Hanna's stab at DC's premier team is such a relief, as they find the perfect balance between reflecting those other titles while still telling their own story, which can be enjoyed in its own right.
"Justice League: Rebirth" #1 opens with a reduced League lineup: Aquaman, Batman, Cyborg, Flash and Wonder Woman. Hitch then eases us into the changes by introducing the title's three newest members: Superman and Earth's current pair of Green Lanterns, Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz. Hitch carefully shows us their status quos -- Superman being from another universe while this world's Superman is now dead, Jessica and Simon having been assigned to the Justice League by Hal Jordan -- without dropping an overwhelming amount of backstory on the reader. There are brief nods to Jessica's and Simon's individual pasts with the Justice League, but the narration doesn't go into overkill by explaining how each of them have actually been members of different versions of the League in the past.
The elephant in the room is, of course, Superman. Jessica and Simon are at least personally known by the Justice League, even if they're now both officially trainees within the team. This Superman is someone who's both familiar to the League, and yet distrusted because he's not their Superman. Hitch nails the sentiment around him perfectly in a line from Batman: "I want him close until we can figure out what's really happening." In a genre where heroes too often trust random additions to their team's lineup, this careful decision to invite him in under slightly false pretenses is refreshing. Again, it's a good balance, in that we get just enough to understand what's going on and for it to be a plot point, but not so much that it overwhelms the book or fans who haven't read "Superman: Rebirth" #1 or "Green Lanterns: Rebirth" #1.
Perhaps because he needed to include all this information, Hitch wisely went back to the proverbial well when choosing a villain. While the villain is technically new -- a huge monster that takes over people's minds with smaller versions of itself -- it's hard to not see it as anything but a modern incarnation of Starro, the starfish-shaped monster that the original Justice League of America fought in their first appearance. (The narration does mention Starro, though, which feels like an extra nod to this foe's inspiration rather cementing it as a replacement for the original.) The city-sized monster is a great choice for Hitch's pencils; he and inkers Henriques and Hanna really bring across not only its incredible size, but its otherworldly, Cthulhu-like horror. Though heroes wandering around inside the bulk of a massive monster is almost superhero cliche at this point, Hitch built his career on making these situations feel awesome in a literal sense of the word, and he maintains that here.
"Justice League: Rebirth" #1 ultimately promises several things: first, that its characters will reflect the status quo of their own titles, but only to the point where it would affect the main story (Hitch wisely sticks to what's relevant by keeping Aquaman from talking about his new embassy, or Wonder Woman about the lies in her past); second, that the book will remain accessible to those who are only reading "Justice League"; and third, that the title is going to tell big, larger-than-life superhero stories -- and I'm down for all three. "Justice League: Rebirth" #1 delivers on its promises, and it's a strong sign of what's to come.
"Justice League: Rebirth" #1 is now on sale.